Mohammed bin Salman's statement is evidence of the seriousness of his efforts in the normalization process and is also intended to prepare public opinion in the kingdom for him.
The three leaders – Biden, bin Salman and Netanyahu – have good reasons to make an effort to reach a peace agreement. The short window at their disposal urges them to exhaust their flexibility and find creative solutions in order to overcome the hurdles along the way: Saudi Arabia's demands for uranium enrichment capabilities, a defense alliance, and significant progress on the Palestinian issue.
Another issue that requires an internal Israeli decision is an American-Israeli defense agreement. If the Israeli system is convinced that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, then the current timing is an opportunity to achieve such an agreement, as part of the overall deal.
Netanyahu: "The sanctions must be reinstated, I will do everything to prevent them from nuclearization" // Reuters
The list of rewards Saudi Arabia expects from the United States is long. Some of them not only do not pose a problem to Israel, but are also desirable from Israel's point of view. Thus, Israel should not oppose a defense agreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Jerusalem has an interest in strengthening American commitment to its allies in the region, and therefore it must support it, even publicly.
With regard to the supply of advanced American weapons to Saudi Arabia, Israel must condition its consent on the United States taking steps at the same time to ensure its qualitative advantage. For example, by upgrading its capabilities, in cases where the weapons sold to Saudi Arabia erode Israel's advantage.
The ideal response
A significant dilemma concerns Saudi Arabia's demand for American assistance in establishing a civilian nuclear infrastructure, which includes uranium enrichment capability. You don't have to be a nuclear expert to understand for what purposes it is needed. Saudi Arabia's joining the nuclear club will lead to an expansion of nuclear proliferation in the region. Other countries will work to obtain uranium enrichment capability in their territory.
As far as Israel is concerned, the ideal response Biden should have given to such a demand is: "You [Saudi Arabia] will not have and Iran will not have." In other words, instead of Saudi Arabia equipping itself with such a capability in its efforts to close the gap with Iran, the United States will act to offset Iran's threatening capabilities. Such a response would not only reassure Saudi Arabia, but would prevent nuclear competition in the Middle East and send a clear message about the global standard that must be maintained in the nuclear field.
However, the Biden administration has so far taken the opposite direction, and such a radical change should not be expected. It can be assumed that the proposals in this regard will focus on the necessary arrangements in order to enable American control and prevent conversion to the military sphere over time. An American defense pact with the kingdom could provide additional hoops for this, given the legitimacy it would give the United States to criticize Saudi moves. All of these will reduce risks, but not to allay all of Israel's fears or prevent a regional nuclear race.
As for the Palestinian issue, Riyadh expects a significant process that will bring this issue back to the negotiating table and give weight to the Saudi initiative of 2002 to end the Arab-Israeli conflict.
It is possible that the US administration is holding on to this in order to increase the pressure on Israel and advance the Palestinian issue in accordance with its perception. This could lead to demands on Israel being higher than it can actually afford. The main criterion by which the Israeli position should be formulated is coups. Do not agree to irreversible concessions (or the price of their reversibility will be high).
There is no cure without side effects
At this stage, it is difficult to express a position for or against a "defense agreement" between the United States and Israel because it depends on its content and details, which are not known and may not have been agreed. Just as there is no drug without negative side effects, there are no moves of this kind that are without drawbacks. Israel should determine its position based on the overall balance.
The more the proposal strengthens Israel's deterrent image, guarantees its freedom of action and its ability to defend itself by itself, strengthens the American commitment to enhance its military capabilities and qualitative advantage, and establishes a bipartisan commitment to it, the more positive it will be.
The idea of limiting commitment to situations of existential threat is a possible direction for dealing with the fear of restrictions on freedom of action.
Israel will also have to add the Saudi issue to the considerations. The volatile security reality increases the risks of violent scenarios – in the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria, Jerusalem, vis-à-vis security prisoners, and in the northern arena. These can negatively influence public opinion on the Arab street, whose weight increases at decisive moments. In such a situation, any "small crisis" can be a big obstacle.
Meir Ben-Shabbat is head of the Misgav Institute for National Security and Zionist Strategy in Jerusalem, and previously served as head of the National Security Council
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