image Photo: Flash90, Reuters

Israel hoping for Saudi breakthrough

This, as part of talks between Washington and Riyadh.

By Erin Viner

United States National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a visit to the kingdom yesterday, on a trip aimed at bolstering often-frayed ties between the two countries.

Sullivan also held joint talks with the Crown Prince, United Arab Emirates (UAE) National Security Advisor Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed al-Nahyan and India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval “to advance their shared vision of a more secure and prosperous Middle East region interconnected with India and the world,” said the White House.

Sullivan’s journey comes after damage to US-Saudi ties due to oil production cuts by Saudi-led OPEC+ and differences over the 2018 killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“He reviewed significant progress in talks to further consolidate the now 15-month long truce in Yemen and welcomed ongoing UN-led efforts to bring the war to a close, as well as covering a range of other issues,” the White House statement said.

Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s top White House national security aide, also thanked the Crown Prince for Saudi support to US citizens during evacuation from Sudan, added the statement.

U.S. special envoy Tim Lenderking travelled to Oman and Saudi Arabia earlier this month to seek to advance Yemen peace efforts, the State Department said.

A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 after the Iran-aligned Houthis ousted the government from the capital Sanaa. A delegation from Riyadh, which is seeking a permanent ceasefire deal to end military involvement in the war, concluded peace talks in mid-April in Sanaa with the rebel group, whose top negotiator said talks had made progress and further discussions would be held. Yemen’s conflict, which has killed tens of thousands of people and left millions hungry, has widely been seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

While the White House statement made no mention of Israel, a top Jerusalem security official expressed hope on Friday that a breakthrough in efforts to normalize its ties with Saudi Arabia would be reached during Sullivan’s visit.

The head of Israel’s National Security Council, Tzachi Hanegbi, spoke on Wednesday with his counterpart Sullivan.

During announcement the following day of his impending travel to Riyadh, Sullivan said Washington is working hard to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia – a major goal set by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who briefly joined Sullivan’s video call with Hanegbi.

Just prior to his reelection last December, Netanyahu pledged to achieve a “quantum leap” in peace between Jerusalem and Riyadh.

“We are very, very hopeful that there will be a breakthrough during his visit there,” Hanegbi later told Israel’s Reshet 13 News.

“There are those who say that there have been more than phone calls between Saudi and Israeli leaders,” Hanegbi told the station, adding, “But what is important is that the United States lead a move adding Saudi Arabia to the Abraham Accords – normalization and peace with Israel. If that happens it will be a historic turning point.”

In 2020, the administration of former US President Donald Trump brokered the historic Abraham Accords normalization pacts between Israel and its Gulf allies, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain– all of which share security fears over Iran.

While Saudi Arabia signaled approval of the 2020 accords, it has held off on following suit, saying Palestinian goals for statehood should be addressed first.

Those prospects have been clouded, however, by Saudi’s recent strains with the US and the rapprochement with its regional rival Iran, as well as the rise of the hard-right Israeli government led by Israeli Prime Minister-Designate Benjamin Netanyahu.