Are the Saudis Jewish?
Israel also comes to an agreement with Bahrain : What role Saudi Arabia is playing in rapprochement with Israel
Without the green light from Saudi Arabia, neither the United Arab Emirates (UAE) nor Bahrain would have been able to conclude their basic treaties with Israel. In Riyadh there are signs that the government of the Arab ruling power is using salami tactics to prepare the public for normalization of relations with the Jewish state. The Imam of the Great Mosque of Mecca now demanded a dialogue with non-Muslims and especially with Jews in a sermon.
The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had already granted Israel a right to exist two years ago. A Saudi-Israeli agreement is likely to remain unofficial for the time being because the 84-year-old King Salman is putting the brakes on.
If the normalization of relations between Bahrain and Israel announced on Friday is sealed this Tuesday in Washington, US President Donald Trump is likely to celebrate the agreement as another foreign policy success for himself: with the UAE and the Kingdom of Bahrain, two Arabs will have within a few weeks Gulf states made their peace with Israel.
Sudan or Oman could be the next Arab countries to recognize Israel. Even below the threshold of official treaties, normalization between the Muslim world and Israel is progressing. Saudi Arabia opens its airspace to flights between Israel and the UAE. According to Israeli media reports, there could soon be direct flights between Israel and Morocco for the first time.
Bahrain depends on support from Riyadh
Like the UAE, Bahrain is one of the Saudis' closest allies in the region and depends on support from Riyadh. The Sunni leadership in Bahrain, a mini-state with 1.6 million people on an island in the Persian Gulf, rules a Shiite majority. In the Arab Spring, Saudi troops suppressed an uprising against the royal family in Bahrain.
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The authorities in Manama have also cracked down on critics in recent years; Human rights activists report arrests, torture and executions. After the agreement with Israel was announced, many Bahrainis criticized their government's decision on social media, but the experience of recent years suggests that the leadership will nip protests in the bud.
After the UAE, Egypt and Jordan, Bahrain is the fourth Arab state to recognize Israel. The Gulf Arabs see an alliance with the Jewish state as insurance against their common enemy, Iran. They are looking for new allies because they fear that the Americans' protective shield in the region will weaken in the future - Trump is currently reducing US troops in Syria and Iraq. The new alliance is opposed to Iran, the Palestinians, Turkey and the Iranian-founded Hezbollah in Lebanon. Qatar - a partner of Turkey and a rival of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain - has unofficial contacts with Israel, but so far no diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
Saudi media criticize Palestinians
The rapprochement between the Arabs and Israel is also made possible by a generation change. Older top Arab politicians like King Salman are shaped by the traditional loyalty of their countries to the Palestinians. The king has made it clear several times that he is sticking to the classic Arab position: According to this, Israel can only count on recognition when the Palestinians get their own state. Younger politicians like 35-year-old Mohammed bin Salman or 59-year-old UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed bin Nahyan have fewer problems offending the Palestinians by making peace with Israel.
However, the Saudi heir to the throne, Mohammed bin Salman, has to pay attention to his father and to public opinion in the country, because he needs the support of the king and the society, which for decades has been trimmed to hostility with Israel, for his economic reform program. Smaller gestures such as the sermon given by Abdulrahman al-Sudais, the imam of the Great Mosque in Mecca, serve the goal of slowly getting the Saudis used to the idea of a peace treaty with Israel.
The Imam reminded his audience that the Prophet Mohammed had sought good relations with Jews and other non-Muslims. At the same time, the Saudi media are criticizing the Palestinians. Even if Saudi Arabia is not yet out of cover, the direction is clear.
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