What Is Behind Saudi Arabia Moving Closer To Israel And The West?

The Twitter hashtag #Riyadh_is_more_important_than_Jerusalem has been spreading like wildfire amongst Saudi users of the social media platform. Perusing through the comments of users, one gets a strong sense of the different layers of meaning the slogan has for residents of Saudi Arabia.

First off is the frustration that many Saudis have with what they perceive as too much attention being paid to the Palestinian cause. Focusing too much on the plight of Palestinians is diverting resources and political capital to an issue that is, frankly, not at the top of the priority list. One tweet tagged with the slogan states “Home First.” Another spoke about “questioning the importance” Palestine has for Saudi Arabia at all.

Indeed Saudis have their own problems to deal with. From working out deep-rooted governmental corruption to normalizing the relationship between the religious hierarchy and private life, to women’s rights - all of which have seen important changes recently - there is a long list of domestic concerns that Saudis would rather think about.

While this sentiment is clearly one being strongly expressed in the #Riyadh_is_more_important_than_Jerusalem phenomenon, there is another, and equally important message being sent.

All signs are pointing to a genuine shift within Saudi Arabia to normalize relations with the international community. This includes the West at large, and Israel specifically. One of the most important events in Saudi political history took place just a few weeks ago when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began a series of arrests of political opponents on “corruption” charges.

This move was perceived by many as the beginnings of a reform program by Prince Mohammed that could drastically alter Saudi Arabia’s character.

There have been signs supporting this position.

Shortly after the Prince’s purge, Salman invited the Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon, Beshara Rai to Al-Yamamah, in Riyadh. This was the first instance of such a Christian leader visiting the Saudi Kingdom. A number of other instances of “loosening restrictions” in areas of culture and the economy indicate that Prince Mohammed is serious about moving the country in a new direction.

This new direction has also come with reaching out to Israel, albeit in a subtle way. The behind the scenes collaboration between Israel and the Saudis is not completely new. For years reports have detailed the meeting between top-ranking Saudi and Israeli security officials, and even signs of their collaboration on regional strategy. This relationship has become more overt.

The London based Saudi news outlet Elaph Journal recently published an article containing an interview of IDF chief of staff General Gadi Eizenkot. In his first interview with an Arab outlet, the general spoke about the “Shiite threat” facing both Israel and the Saudis and that the two countries had “common interest” in addressing the spearhead of that threat, Iran.

As this author can attest, it is astounding for any Israeli military serviceman to see the name of their commander in Arabic ( غادي إيزنكوت) written in a positive context.  

The #Riyadh_is_more_important_than_Jerusalem trend is the latest expression of the cooling of tensions between these two countries. It is showing that Saudis do not want to be in a state of perpetual rivalry with Israel over a conflict that is not that important to them. In the words of one Twitter user: the idea is to relegate #Palestine to what it is: nothing but one of the 100s of border conflicts across the world.

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