By Haider Abbas
The a mad rush in whole of Middle-East over to embrace Israel. The first Arab state was UAE which formalised its relations with Israel on August 14, 2020 1, ten days after the blasts in Beirut, Lebanon. The second state was Bahrain which did it on September 10, 2020 2 and now US president Donald Trump on September 19, 2020 3 has said that Kuwait may be the next to fall in line. ‘The Kuwaitis “are so excited that we signed the first two countries and I think they’ll end up fairly quickly being a part of it,” Trump said at a White House press briefing after he bestowed a top honor on Kuwait’s Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, which his eldest son accepted on his behalf. I have, I would say, seven or eight countries that want to be a part of it,” Trump said. “Nobody thought this would happen and not only is it happening, it’s happening rather easily.” 4 It was therefore quite well understood that sooner, but now rather very much sooner, as the reports suggests, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA, the leader of the pack, is also to announce normalisation with Israel.
It was therefore all bound to be easy, as after the Beirut blasts, which devastated Lebanese capital, and towards which, Trump for twice reiterated, in a matter of two days, that the blast was an attack by a kind of bomb 5, and which Israel denied. The policy accomplished the desired results as at one front Israel denied it and on the other side Trump intimidated from it, and the message to the Gulf-states made them bend down on their backs! Trump son- in- law and the chief architect of this whole new on-going chapter in the Gulf politics- Jared Kushner, has already expressed that very soon all the 22-Gulf states will have full-diplomatic relations with Israel 6.
The reckoning was all coming. The events of the last one and month, precisely, after the Beirut blasts, may well become the turning-point for the future generations to analyse as to how the situations catapulted (read Arab states) after the blasts. In just two days later, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi , on August 6, 2020 7, signalled that Pakistan would dissociate itself from the KSA ‘run’ 58-nation group Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) for dragging its feet on the issue of Kashmir, and all hell let loose. Pakistan going to that extent was unimaginable as Pakistan and KSA has had an extremely close relationship for seven decades, and KSA crown prince Muhamed Bin Salman (MbS) in his reaction, sought back his loan of 1 billion USD from Pakistan which Pakistan returned with China’s help on August 6, 2020 8 . KSA stopped oil on deferred loan to Pakistan on August 8, 2020 9 and threatened to send back Pakistan labourers and expatriates back home. KSA also disallowed flights from Pakistan, in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, while allowing 25 other nations for the same, according to SaudiGazette on September 2, 2020 10 .
The US took MbS by his nerves. The day when the Beirut happened on that very day US accused MbS to be pursuing a clandestine ‘nuclear-dream’ and that too with China’s help 11. Only a fool would occur to it. Closely on the heels came the news on August 10, 2020 12 that US court had issued a summon to MbS over allegations from his Ex. Intelligence official Saad Al Jabri that MbS had sent death-squads to kill him the way Adnan Khashogi was done with. But, as no sooner Pakistan had smarted its way out of the penumbra of KSA to find a separate space for itself with Turkey, Malaysia and Iran with China and Russian support, UAE like a house of cards fell to KSA dictates and assumed formal relations with Israel on August 14, 2020. Pakistan, perhaps, had calculated it all in advance. But, a clear ‘advantage Israel’ has come in the making as Pakistan and KSA and with it other Arab-states have drifted apart as now Pakistan and Iran are the only likely nations expected never to have normal relations with Israel. MbS however, will permanently remain under the scanner for the two allegations leveled against him by US.
What the world therefore is now to wake to is the new surprise that Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu had already secretly visited UAE in 2018! The Times of Israel on September 1, 2020 13 broke the story that Netanyahu had met the de facto ruler of the Emirates while on a tour to Oman too in the year 2018! What had been sown has now been reaped on August 14, 2020, and quite understandably, the figure in the backdrop is the Israeli Intelligence (Mossad) Chief Yossi Cohen. ‘ there was (also) a follow-up meeting a year later in Washington attended by Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and representatives of the US and UAE governments. Israel’s then-ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, was heavily involved in the negotiations that ultimately led to the normalization deal with the UAE’, said the report.
No wonder, once the Abraham-Accord was signed between UAE, Bahrain and Israel in the presence of US president Donald Trump at White House on September 15, 2020 14 Israel Mossad Chief figure came up yet again ( quite understood by now) with a bombshell that ‘Saudis could join nations normalising ties with Israel’ as reported in Times of Israel on September 17, 2020. 15 He indicated that Saudi Arabia could be in line to normalize ties with Israel following landmark peace agreements with the UAE and Bahrain, as he has been cited to be the ‘key figure in the US-sponsored Abraham Accords with Abu Dhabi and Manama, and had reportedly shuttled to Gulf states on numerous secretive journeys in recent years to build closer clandestine ties with Arab nations. He supposedly told “the breaking of a glass ceiling that existed in our relations with Arab states.” He said the move to formalize ties was achieved through long years of “contacts managed very delicately.” Questioned as to whether major regional power Saudi Arabia could move to do so in the foreseeable future, Cohen answered: “I believe it could happen.” And asked if he had met with Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, he smiled and said “I’d like not to comment on that point.” Trump on September 15, 2020 had already said that he expected ‘Saudi Arabia to normalize relations with Israel following the diplomatic move taken by Bahrain and the UAE. Trump also had said he believed ‘some five or six countries were on the path to peace with Israel, then later revised that number to up to nine nations. Asked if he expected Saudi Arabia to follow the UAE and Bahrain, Trump said: “I do. I spoke with the king of Saudi Arabia,” adding it would come “at the right time.”’
What however is expected to spill the beans further is that it has also come to light that MbS had hired an Israeli firm for phone hacking in KSA. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz informed through the story on September 16, 2020 16 ‘Revealed: Israeli Firm Provided Phone-hacking Services to Saudi Arabia’ cried the headline. It further informed that ‘a representative of Cellebrite, which states that it has complied with the rules, flew to Riyadh from London last November (2019) , and at the request of the Saudi prosecutor’s office hacked into a Samsung cellphone’ . What would however add further to surprise is that MbS had been hobnobbing with the Israeli agency NSO way back since 2018 when KSA government held secret talks for 55 million USD deal with ‘an Israeli company that specializes in cyber espionage tools to sell a technology that allows governments to hack their citizens’ cellphones, and to listen to calls as well as conversations that take place near the phones. Representatives from the Herzliya-based NSO Group held meetings with Saudi officials in Vienna and, apparently, also in a Gulf State to negotiate a $55 million sale of their Pegasus 3 software,’ had informed The Times of Israel on November 25, 2018 17 , which ultimately led to the crown prince to launch ‘a crackdown on rivals’.
Hence, in the wake of such damning revelations it cannot be discounted that the same software might have been put to use in both India and Pakistan as ‘scores of Pakistani senior defence and intelligence officials were among those who could have been compromised, according to sources familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity’ wrote The Guardian on December 19, 2019 18 . There had been reports from India too as it was claimed that Israel agency had spied on India reported IndiaToday on October 31, 2019.19 Although it was also reported through The Quint on November 3, 2019 20 that ‘Israel-India Spying Liaison (is) Mutually Beneficial as was told by Former Mossad boss Uzi Arad in an interview. What therefore are the days for KSA can now be understood, as all it would need is to dance according to the ‘ring-tones’ of Israel which is now storehouse of data from KSA.
The woes of KSA does not seem to fall as after the Pakistan spat, China has started to slow down with its ‘buying-oil’ from KSA which made it to slip to the third position 21 and even from prior to it KSA profits from oil had dramatically gone-low, as COVID-19 had hit the world. ‘ for the whole first half of the year. Saudi oil (giant) Aramco said its net income plunged to 23.2 billion USD down by 50 percent from 46.9 billion USD a year ago’ informed Geopolitics.News on August 9, 2020 22 . Why could this happen? The answer lies in a detailed article published in OilPrice.Com on September 10, 2020 23 which confirms that ‘‘Saudi Aramco is now suffering the consequences of a failed oil price war’ . The article further informs that ‘Despite the 50 per cent plunge in Aramco’s net profit for the first half of this year – a result of the Saudi-led oil price war at a time when demand was already choked off by the COVID-19 outbreak – the company is still obliged to hand over US$18.75 billion in this quarter alone to those who bought the Aramco’s shares.’ This brings down all, to a question as to how Aramco would pay 75 billion USD as dividends to its share holders despite incurring so much of loss? Something which it still claims to behold! As reported in Business Standard on August 10, 2020 24 which would mean a payment, even in the wake of a loss of around 50 billion USD annually.
If this downward trend for KSA is to be assuaged then it might lay in its ‘spoilsport’ with Pakistan which led China to distance itself from it, apart from Russia which had long been in a duel with KSA over the oil-price-wars! Already the world was crying for it as CNBC.com on June 9, 2020 25 reported ‘the Saudi-Russia oil price war was a ‘very big mistake’. The baseline over this oil-war is that Russia does not want the oil-prices to increase in any state. This made MbS to open-up a bout with Russian president Vladimir Putin, and for other reasons too, as Putin is considered close to Iran and Turkey, and this duel went on to make something never witnessed in history; crude-oil prices crashed to below zero dollar level, reported The Guardian on April 20, 2020 26
This finally led to US oil hitting sub-zero for the first time, Economic Times reported on April 21, 2020 27 , which made China to make the best of the opportunity and it ordered millions of barrels of oil from US owing to the almost ‘dead-prices’, informed WorldOil.com on August 18, 2020 28 whereas, these orders were to have been made to KSA in the first place but KSA had lost its priorities with China! China benefited to the maximum as now it would mean an almost free oil for it, hence, China would now be more in a better position to invest in CPEC under BRI, and this where the loss of KSA lies! How will KSA assimilate in the wake of the coming second-wave of COVID-19 is however yet to be seen.
KSA as a part of redemption policy has already started to slash down its defense budget as DefenseandSecurityMonitor on April 1, 2020 29 , had forecasted ‘In light of this, the days of Saudi defense budgets (of) over $80 billion, as they were in the mid-2010s, are long gone’. How will KSA is supposed to meet to it? Obviously, it will need to sell more shares of Aramco which might hit rock-bottom and so as to become at par, KSA has already decided to triple the VAT , informed Al Jazeera on May 11, 2020 30 . To add more to the uphill circumstances KSA had also to annul the annual ‘Hajj and Umrah’ pilgrimages, due to COVID-19, which adds around 12 billion USD as ‘straight revenue’ to KSA economy every year, tells TRTworld.com on June 23, 2020 31 , apart from the loss of business ( hotel, food and travel) and the charities which the pilgrims perform every year while on the yearly occasion of Hajj, and on Umrah round the year. Umrah is a short pilgrimage. Thus, some series of losses which KSA might not have apprehended, have happened, as by distancing itself from Pakistan, it ended up ‘isolating itself ’from China! In such an ‘untoward circumstances’ the young MbS ( of 35 years) has finished with a bad Pakistan, Qatar, Turkey, Iran, China and even Russia. And, together with pressure from US, over his summon, there is certainly going to be a very hard time ahead for KSA. KSA has as matter of fact also realised that China is now in no way going to import-oil from KSA on the same lines as now it has entered into a 400 billion USD ‘trade and military’ deal with Iran in exchange of oil from Iran on a heavy discount for the next 25 years, reported The New York Times on July 12, 2020 32.
The geo-politics in the last few months coupled with COVID-19 spread-out has surely spelt a ‘testing-time’ ahead for MbS, particularly, in context to his 2030 vision, which was sold to him by Mckenzie.Com in 2015 which featured on the lines to carry KSA beyond its dependence on oil 33 and Saudi Vision 2030 was brought to make KSA self-sufficient by attracting around 100 million tourists an year, which TravelWeekly.Com.AU disclosed on September 30, 2019 34 that ‘Saudi Arabia is now offering visas for the first time to non-religious tourists, in an historic move that aims to diversify the kingdom’s economy away from oil’ , and a 500 billion USD Neom City was conceptualised which was to be 33 times bigger than New York 35 . In the prevalent state-of-affairs when oil prices have plunged, no fresh jobs created and economy going down every day, how will this Neom City be brought to fruition? Except, for the fact that it is going to turn into a yet another Frankstein monster for KSA establishment.
The Neom City is now to be a distant dream as it had already come to light, according to WSJ on September 30, 2018 36 , way before COVID-19, that ‘Saudi Arabia has put on hold a $200 billion plan with SoftBank Group Corp. to build the world’s biggest solar-power-generation project . This was a part of the Neom City plan. KSA now is also desperately trying to replace its citizens as workers in its workplaces but KSA citizens willing to work as ‘low-paid-jobs’ is also a big question, how will KSA situate to this, in its wake of dispatching foreign labourers and workers also will be interesting to find out. Perhaps, a giant size unemployed population is waiting in the new face of KSA, this will be in-togetherness when KSA economy has had been worse hit, as in 2017 it was learnt that KSA had applied for a 10 billion USD loan from IMF, informed MiddleEastMonitor on August 31, 2017 37 . One of the most ambitious project of KSA i.e. Jeddah Tower, supposedly the tallest building in the world , started in 2013, stands halted from 2018 with only a quarter of its work done and shows ‘no end in sight’ tells TheUrbanDeveloper.Com in March 2020 38 . Everything in KSA depended on oil which is now towards its fall, hence, Vision 2030, might just end up in doldrums and perhaps the grossest miscalculation of KSA in the recent times. The dark long night seem to get even longer.
In this overall picture KSA is itching to catch-up with normalising its relations with Israel. There had been in hushed voices ‘squabbles’ between KSA King Salman and his son MbS but now that too has been unveiled as WallStreetJournal on September 18, 2020 39 has broken it to the world that ‘an argument is raging behind palace doors in Saudi Arabia: Now that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have forged ties with Israel should the kingdom follow suit? Saudi Arabia’s monarch, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, has been at odds with his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, over embracing the Jewish state. The king is a longtime supporter of the Arab boycott of Israel and the Palestinians’ demand for an independent state. The prince wants to move past what he sees as an intractable conflict to join with Israel in business and align against Iran. When President Trump announced on Aug. 13 that Israel and the U.A.E. were normalising diplomatic ties, the deal stunned the 84-year-old king, who had just begun his summer holiday, according to people familiar with the matter, including Saudi advisers. His son wasn’t so surprised. Prince Mohammed feared his father might block a deal that didn’t do enough to advance the cause of Palestinian statehood, those people said. If the king of Saudi Arabia, the biggest economy in the Middle East and the guardian of Islam’s holiest sites, didn’t support it, the neighboring Emiratis would be hard-pressed to move ahead. Prince Mohammed didn’t tell his father about the planned accord, which didn’t mention Palestinian statehood. Israel agreed only to suspend plans to annex parts of Israeli-occupied territory in the West Bank in return for diplomatic recognition from the U.A.E’. How King Salman was kept in a loop and could not even get the ‘wind-of’ UAE and Israel embrace is all credit to MbS.
If this article of WSJ has to be analysed then sheds light on all the murky politics that has taken place inside KSA in the immediate past, as the article tells, that the UAE-Israel bonhomie made King Salman ‘furious’ who ‘ordered his foreign minister to restate the kingdom’s commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state, without mentioning the normalization deal. A royal family member close to him wrote an op-ed in a Saudi-owned newspaper reiterating that position and implying the Emiratis should have pressed the Israelis for more concessions. “If any Arab state will follow the United Arab Emirates,” wrote Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former Saudi ambassador to the U.S., “it should demand in return a price, and it should be a high price.” Israel has stated its position that the ‘high-price’ demanded by the Saudis has to be ‘negotiated with the White House, not with Israel.”’. But, now what is now to develope is the willingness for the high-price to be paid ‘instead’ by the Gulf-states (sic)! The article unabashedly puts it that ‘Emiratis have betrayed the Palestinians, (towards which) most Saudis under 30 (of age) don’t really care.”’
The article also unveils, which is now a well known fact, that ‘Saudi Arabia and Israel have maintained discreet but frequent informal contacts on security issues, mostly related to Iran, for around 30 years’. But, the whole episode has at the same time now become a ‘bitter-pie’ for King Salman who has seen in the past decades all the Arab-Israel wars and had often referred himself as “Palestine’s ambassador in Riyadh,” according to the actual Palestinian ambassador, Bassem Al Agha, as it has been the same KSA which once had ‘in 1973, flush with petrodollars, imposed an oil embargo on the U.S., one of its closest allies, for supporting Israel in war against Egypt and Syria’ and ‘until the U.A.E. and Bahrain broke ranks this summer, that remained the stance of all Arab states, although Egypt and Jordan had already signed peace treaties with Israel. For decades, King Salman has funneled billions of dollars to the Palestinians and developed personal relationships with most of their leaders’.
The article elaborates that MbS, had in 2017 itself given a soft message for Israel, when he said he believed in ‘Israel’s right to exist’ and in the same year KSA allowed Trump ‘to fly from Riyadh to Tel Aviv’. Trump, later in tune with pro-Zionist politics took a very dire step to shift US capital to Jerusalem and ‘denied the Palestinians a capital in urban East Jerusalem’ which later has been succeeded by the ‘peace-plan’ (sic) purportedly known as ‘deal of the century’. But, the article goes ahead to inform that ‘since assuming day-to-day responsibility of the Saudi government in 2017, the 35-year-old prince has expressed unusual openness toward Israel and accelerated engagements on security and commerce. Soon after Prince Mohammed became heir apparent by replacing an older cousin in a late-night palace coup, he was privately pressuring Palestinian leaders to accept an early version of Mr. Trump’s peace plan, Arab officials familiar with the discussions have said. The Palestinians refused, saying it endangered their aspirations for statehood’. Prince Mohammed wants to move past what he sees as an intractable conflict to join with Israel in business and align against Iran. Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations from 2015 to 2020, said he had dozens of private conversations with Saudi and Emirati counterparts largely to coordinate actions against Iran.’
Thus, the objective is now clear. Israel, KSA and US are to jointly attack Iran but now Iran has also a formidable ally in the form of China, as an attack on Iran would be construed to be on China too. What however, is more baffling is that the article shows that MbS wants that ‘Israelis would play a big part in developing Neom, with potential investments in biotechnology and cybersecurity’. Now, therefore it becomes clear that KSA future lies with Israel. Since, King Salman had resisted his son overtures, to which, MbS offered Jared Kushner on September 1, 2020, ‘get (the) tiny Bahrain to participate in a deal’, which happened on September 10, 2020. KSA had already allowed its airspace to be used ‘to and from Israel’. MbS is ‘likely to push other states where Saudi Arabia enjoys influence, such as Sudan and Morocco, to normalize with Israel first’, in the coming days. If KSA accedes to have full-diplomatic relations with Israel, which is now more than sure, but for the purpose; King Salman will need to give his ‘initials’ , hence, for King Salman to ‘pass-off, is the wait going on! But, meanwhile MbS instructed his media-houses to accord glowing-coverage to UAE-Israel-Bahrain ‘Abraham-Accord’ as a part of ‘testing the waters and preparing Saudis for what is coming next once he becomes king, despite risking ‘criticism from regional adversaries for not only abandoning the Palestinians, but (also) for allowing any arrangement that would see Israel maintain full control of Jerusalem and access to Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam’. The WSJ article in totality has fore-warned against all the odds which are now slated to become the fate of the Arab world. What is noteworthy is that Arab-states are hard-selling their steps is lieu of Israel abandoning the ‘annexation-plan’
It will however be foolhardy to believe that Israel is ever going to suspend its ‘annexation-plan’ of the whole of West Bank, which was in actuality an intrinsic part of the ‘deal of the century’ as was declared on January 28, 2020 informed NewYorkTimes 40 , and Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu, has also put on record that ‘ annexation-plan’ is still very much on the table, which ironically, he said before UAE declared its formalisation of ties, informed Al Jazeera on August 13, 2020 41 . It may be reiterated that this ‘annexation-plan’ is also to let Israel have sway over the fate of Al Aqsa mosque which the Jews want to demolish to make their ‘Temple-Mount’ on it, towards which Turkey president Erdogan has warned Israel 42 . Israel was created out of the Ottoman Empire from inside Palestine in 1948. Palestinians had rejected the ‘deal of the century’ on its very onset.
KSA main concern seem to be the threat from Iran, which is actually bolstered by the ‘crying-wolf’ policy of Israel, and that is what has made all the Arab-states huddle to confront Iran, as Iran had thrown its kingship and had led to a ‘guided-democracy’ in 1979 and since then all what the Gulf-states have found are the unending wars stretched for decades. As Arabs bled each-other Israel gained in so much strength, overtly supported by US, that it has now assumed the ‘super-power’ status in the whole of Gulf-region. Iran has been caught ‘scurrying’ as mystery fires have ransacked Iran, reported by BBC.Com on July 6,2020. 43. Iran seven ships were set ablaze on July 15, 2020 came the news from BBC.Com 44 and Israeli is considered to be likely behind it, tells VoX.Com on July 17, 2020 45 . Iran’s nuclear program has been pushed-back by months, ‘Iran Admits Serious Damage to Natanz Nuclear Site, Setting Back Program. A Middle Eastern intelligence official said Israel planted a bomb in a building where advanced centrifuges were being developed’, and Israel defense minister Benny Gants replied to it, “Not every event that happens in Iran is necessarily related to us,” he added, while not denying involvement in the Natanz explosion,”’ told NewYorkTimes on July 6, 2020 46 . Hence, with Iran ‘nuclear- teeth’ broken and Beirut blasts done, there is no-way-to-stop Israel (read US) to reign supreme in the whole of Gulf-region. What may deserve a mention is that Ex. Home minister of Lebanon Nohad Machnouk had accused Israel to have blown the port in Beirut, the report published in AsiaTimes on August 13, 2020 47 tells.
Israel thus, has largely become successful as Pakistan, which has provided with security to KSA establishment is now to be scuttled. Very soon Raheel Sharif, the Ex. Pakistan army chief overlooking KSA sponsored Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition may be found packing. But, the old guard in KSA which found itself ‘comfortable’ with Pakistan army guards may be susceptible to be replaced by guards from any other nation, what to talk of Israeli guards. India, which is now firmly with Israel and facing two adversaries i.e. China and Pakistan in Himalayas, and with Pakistan now ‘distanced’ from KSA, therefore, ‘In Saudi-Pakistan clash, India has an opportunity’ is what the headline of The Hindustan Times on September 2, 2020 48 suggests, thereby, making it clear that India is ready to make a plunge in KSA. It has also tried to let the Gulf-states know that for them China is just a temporary friend, formed the headline of TheHinduBusinessLine.Com on September 8, 2020 49 .
One thing however has now got clear is that once MbS is to become king, India and Israel are to have a lot of ‘fun-under-the-sun’.
The writer is a former UP State Information Commissioner. He writes on international issues.
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