Saudi Arabia at Crossroads over Gaza War: A Balanced Approach Needed



by SEDEDIN DEDOVIC

Saudi Arabia at Crossroads over Gaza War: A Balanced Approach Needed
© Pool / Getty Images

The ongoing conflict in Gaza has put Saudi Arabia in a delicate position, requiring a careful balance between its growing ties to Israel and maintaining solidarity within the Arab world. The country is facing big challenges and they need a good balance of things.

At the same time, Germany, under Chancellor Olaf Scholz, has shown its willingness to refrain from blocking the delivery of Eurofighter fighter jets to Riyadh. Despite internal concerns within the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and coalition partners, the Greens and Liberals (FDO), Chancellor Scholz agrees with the assessment of Federal Foreign Minister Annalene Baerbock (Greens).

The German government claims Saudi Arabia has taken a "very constructive stance" in the current conflict in the Middle East, as evidenced by its use of Eurofighter jets to intercept rockets fired by Houthi rebels in Yemen towards Israel.

Baerbock, during a recent visit to Israel, expressed that the German government would no longer oppose Britain's desire to build and deliver Eurofighter jets to Riyadh. The significance of Berlin's position lies in the fact that Britain can deliver these planes only with Germany's consent, given that key parts of the planes are manufactured in Germany.

This position is consistent with the position of US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who after his visit to Riyadh spoke positively about Saudi Arabia's potential role in normalizing relations with Israel. He praised the understanding and attitude of the king as well as other officials.

Mohammed bin Salman, Donald Trump© Pool / Getty Images

However, this optimistic assessment contrasts with the views of some Middle East experts who note the growing distance between Israel and Saudi Arabia after the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack that triggered the Gaza war.

The normalization process between the two nations, which had been progressing, was temporarily suspended in light of the conflict. Before the Gaza war, there was speculation that a historic deal was imminent between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which lack formal diplomatic relations but maintain informal contacts.

Saudi Arabia even opened its airspace to Israeli planes in the summer of 2022. However, Israel's military response to the Hamas attack changed the dynamic, leading Riyadh to be more critical of Israel's actions, aligning with the sentiments of other Arab and Islamic countries that is also natural.

The Gaza war prompted Saudi Arabia to play a significant diplomatic role, with Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al Saud heading a committee set up by the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. This committee is in favor of an immediate ceasefire, contrary to Israel's preferences.

Namely, Bin Farhan initiated talks on this issue in Beijing and Moscow, signaling to Washington that Saudi Arabia has alternative diplomatic options and that we are now in a multipolar world that continues to develop. In the face of critical rhetoric about Israel, it is clear that Saudi Arabia's foreign policy interests have remained largely unchanged even after the Gaza war, at least according to Philip Dinstbeer, head of the Gulf States regional program at Jordan's Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

"Saudi Arabia's foreign policy interests have not fundamentally changed even after the start of the Gaza war. In this way, the Saudi kingdom meets the US desire for good relations with Israel, as it continues to rely on a security partnership with Washington.

After the disappointment of the lack of response from the US to the shelling of Saudi oil facilities in 2019, Saudi Arabia now expects a stronger and more reliable security partnership with the U.S.," says Dinstbir. "In addition, Riyadh is interested in U.S.

support for its nuclear program, as well as arms cooperation." Furthermore, Saudi Arabia shares special economic interests with Israel, especially in the area of economic modernization. The kingdom aims for close economic exchanges with key regional economies, with Israel serving as a leader in high technologies.

The two countries find common ground in trade and infrastructure projects, reflecting a pragmatic approach to strengthening economic ties. The apparent contradiction between public criticism and fundamental interests stems from Saudi Arabia's complex role as a leader in the Islamic world.

The Kingdom refrains from normalizing relations with Israel without addressing the Palestinian perspective. At the same time, the internal pressures of the population and the political elite require careful balancing, with Saudi Arabia since October 7 seeking to manage these different perspectives and interests in the best way for its own good.

Saudi Arabia, of course, maintains a great interest in maintaining stability in the wider region, but they emphasized that this is impossible without a sovereign and independent state of Palestine. The ongoing war in Gaza presents challenges to the kingdom's modernization plans, as it largely depends on Israel's most loyal partners.

Recent attacks by Yemeni Houthi rebels in the Red Sea have proven the precarious security situation in the region, prompting Saudi Arabia to adopt a cautious approach. Although there is no official confirmation of the interception of rockets fired by the Houthis towards Israel, these actions could be considered self-defense, which indirectly benefited Israel.

Yemen even threatened Saudi Arabia that if it continues to shoot down their rockets aimed at Israel, it will receive an unexpected and fierce response. Saudi Arabia's efforts in an international military alliance against the Iran-backed Houthis continue. Although a truce has been agreed, the focus remains on stabilizing the region.

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