The significance of the Saudi Arabia-Qatar agreement for Israel

In an article published by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Dr. Mordechai Kedar analyzes the causes of the crisis in the Gulf, the Iranian influence on the reaching of the agreement, and the possibility of the warming of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia in its aftermath 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with the emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, at the Gulf Cooperation Council summit earlier this month. Photo: Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS

By Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Mordechai Kedar

After three years of a diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar accompanied by a land blockade, Saudi Arabia and Qatar will be signing an agreement that will bring the dispute to an end. The agreement was reached with the help of the American negotiating team of Jared Kushner, Avi Berkowitz, Adam Buehler, and Brian Hook.

The quarrels between Riyadh and Qatar did not begin three years ago but many years earlier. However, the Saudis were unable to contain Qatar’s opposition until the advent of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, who discovered that Qatar was aiding the Houthi rebels in Yemen and decided to crack down. The ending of the dispute points to the reunification of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), an organization comprising the states of the Arabian Peninsula (excluding Yemen).

This agreement, like the crisis that preceded it, stands under the heavy shadow of Tehran and was affected by some important developments. First, Joe Biden’s imminent entry into the White House is expected to change US policy toward Iran substantially. Second, Iran has started enriching uranium to 20%, a significant step in the direction of the bomb. Third, Saudi Arabia has failed to fend off the pro-Iranian militias in Yemen and Iraq and avert the threat they pose to the kingdom and to its strained economic position. And finally, during the three years of the blockade, Iran provided aid to Qatar.

The question of interest to Israel is whether the Saudi-Qatari thaw and possible reduced tensions between Riyadh and Tehran would allow Saudi Arabia to keep progressing toward mutual recognition with Israel without rousing too much anger among the Iranian leadership and in its proxy militias in Yemen and Iraq. It is too early to answer this question because the Iranian stance stems from several factors that cannot yet be assessed: the state of negotiations with the Biden administration on the conditions for a US return to the nuclear agreement; the future of US sanctions on Iran; Saudi activity in Yemen; Iran’s economic situation and the stability of the regime, and so on.

The people and the leadership in Israel will need to understand, however, that Jerusalem’s new ties with states of the Arabian Peninsula, including the UAE and Bahrain, are not etched in stone but subject to changes caused by the vicissitudes in those states’ relations with Iran. It must be borne in mind that the Middle East—and that includes Israel’s own politics—is built on sand dunes that change their shape according to the prevailing winds.

 

By Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Mordechai Kedar, lecturer of Arabic studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University, and research associate at the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies. 

The full article on the website of the BESA Center can be found here