The first visit of an Israeli minister to Saudi Arabia reflects the rapid rapprochement between both countries | International

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The possibility of the United States and Saudi Arabia signing a historic agreement that involves Riyadh's recognition of Israel appears to be moving at cruising speed, based on signs in recent days and the first public visit to the Gulf kingdom by an Israeli minister. , this Tuesday.

The head of Tourism, Haim Katz, leads the national delegation to an event of the World Tourism Organization, just half a year after Riyadh denied entry to a similar delegation for an event of the same UN agency. “I will work to create collaborations to promote tourism and Israel's foreign relations,” he said upon arriving in Riyadh, aware that the visit transcends his portfolio and adds to another recent milestone: two weeks ago, an Israeli delegation publicly attended first time to desert kingdomfor the meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

The Israeli press also points to two other visits next week: another minister (Shlomo Karhi, Communications) and a deputy, David Bitan. Both belong to Likud, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's party.

No Arab state recognized Israel after its birth in 1948, and several of them participated in successive wars with the Jewish state. The first was Egypt, in 1979 - recovering in return the Sinai, which it lost in the Six-Day War (1967) - and the second, Jordan (1994), in the heat of the Oslo Accords.

Since then, the rest of the Arab world put a price tag on it, at least on paper: the end of the military occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state. This was shattered in 2020, when then-US President Donald Trump forged the Abraham Accords. After years of secret ties, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan (which has not ratified it, due to its internal situation) broke the taboo and recognized the Jewish State, each for compensation unrelated to Palestinian interests.

Now, the big game is Saudi Arabia. Israel is eager to establish diplomatic relations with as many Arab and Muslim countries as possible at the lowest possible price, but Riyadh is more than one of them. A regional power, it led an important peace initiative endorsed by the Arab League in 2002 and has the added symbolic element of hosting the two holiest places in Islam (Mecca and Medina). Besides, his yes I want It would predictably clear others in the Arab and Muslim world. Those of “six or seven” countries in Africa and Asia that his Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, estimated last Friday, without specifying which ones.

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The agreement has been on the table for years, but negotiations have accelerated in recent weeks. The three parties involved speak openly and optimistically about its existence, but the greatest indicator is the statements to Fox News by the Saudi crown prince, Mohamed Bin Salman. “Every day we are closer,” he said in his first interview with an American media since 2019, broadcast last Wednesday.

He did so on the same day that the president of the United States, Joe Biden, and Netanyahu addressed the issue at their meeting in New York. Two days later, the Israeli head of government assured the UN General Assembly that both countries are “in the anteroom” of the pact and illustrated what its result would be with a map of the region that included the Palestinian territories as part of Israel. . “The entire Middle East changes. We tear down the walls of enmity. We bring the possibility of peace to the entire region,” he ventured.

Benjamin Netanyahu, on the 22nd at the UN General Assembly in New York.BRENDAN MCDERMID (REUTERS)

The pact would have four main elements: a special defense agreement between Washington and Riyadh, recognition of Israel, the green light for a Saudi civil nuclear program and a series of concessions to the Palestinians.

The Palestinian leadership – which was caught on the wrong foot by the 2020 agreements – is now putting pressure on Riyadh to receive some substance, even more so when Netanyahu suggests that they will basically be face-saving economic measures. In this context, the words of Nayef al Sudairi when presenting this Tuesday to President Mahmoud Abbas his credentials as the first ambassador of Saudi Arabia in Palestine (as a non-resident, from Jordan) were looked at with a magnifying glass. He noted that his country “is working toward the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital,” that the 2002 initiative is “a fundamental pillar of any coming agreement” and that they continue to attach “great importance” to the Palestinian cause. .

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (third from left) during the presentation of credentials to Saudi Ambassador Nayef Al-Sudairi (left) in Ramallah.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (third from left) during the presentation of credentials to Saudi Ambassador Nayef Al-Sudairi (left) in Ramallah. THAER GHANAIM (AFP)

In Israel, the cost of the agreement is also worrying. Normalization with Arab countries is a matter of state, but the leader of the opposition - the former prime minister, Yair Lapid - accuses Netanyahu of putting national strategic superiority in the region at risk in order to enter the history books. . “A normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia is desirable, but not at the price of developing nuclear weapons. Not at the price of a nuclear race in the Middle East […] They are the foundations of our nuclear strategy. “Strong democracies do not sacrifice their security interests for politics,” he noted in a statement.

Without naming it, Lapid alluded to the fact that Israel is the only country in the Middle East with an atomic arsenal. An open secret and not covered by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreement that the authorities neither confirm nor deny. National defense policy has been guided for more than half a century by maintaining this exclusive position, as shown by its bombings of nuclear projects in Iraq (1981) and Syria (2007) and the hidden war it maintains with Iran, with murders of nuclear scientists. and cyber attacks.

Lapid fears giving Riyadh the tools that will allow it to one day move from civilian nuclear use to weapons use. Something to which a phrase from Mohamed Bin Salmán contributed in his interview: “If they [Irán] get one [arma nuclear]"We will have to get one."

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