Saudi Arabia to Decide the Middle East’s Future

Hamas’s attack on Israel has highlighted the pros and cons of acknowledging the Jewish state.

Written by Anthony Constantini

What’s happening: Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has tread carefully since Hamas’s October attack on Israel, calling for Israeli troops to leave Gaza while blocking anti-Israel Arab resolutions. The U.S. believes the attack was meant to prevent a groundbreaking Saudi-Israel diplomatic deal.

Why it matters: Bin Salman’s decision regarding Israel could change Middle Eastern politics for generations. Normalizing ties with Israel will allow for an anti-Iran front to form, but it could also create challenges at home.

Why he might normalize: Recognition of Israel could boost Saudi Arabia’s economy and protect it against Iran.

  • Domestic: Bin Salman has sought to liberalize Saudi Arabia’s laws and shift its economy away from being oil-based to invigorating its tech and other sectors. Normalization with Israel could mean both tourists and investment.

  • Foreign: An alliance with the militarily powerful (and nuclear-armed) Israel could give Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim nation, a powerful counterweight to its Shia rival, Iran.

  • Plus, normalization could also bring a bigger protector: the Biden administration has discussed a Saudi-U.S. defense pact.

Why he might not: Recognition of Israel could enrage bin Salman’s conservative population and give Iran an opening.

  • Domestic problem: Saudi Arabia’s population is conservative, and moving toward Israel after its invasion of Gaza could cause serious domestic dissent. Though the real death toll in Gaza is uncertain, it’s clearly devastating.

  • Foreign problem: Normalization after the October attack could allow pro-Hamas countries such as Iran and Qatar to portray themselves as the true protectors of Muslims and bin Salman as a pro-West sellout.