How Saudi-Iran accord can be an opportunity for Israel

How Saudi-Iran accord can be an opportunity for Israel

How Saudi-Iran accord can be an opportunity for Israel
Musaad bin Mohammed Al-Aiban, Wang Yi and Ali Shamkhani, Beijing, China, Mar. 10, 2023. (Reuters)
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The recent diplomatic breakthrough between Saudi Arabia and Iran could be seen as an opportunity for the state of Israel, far from the account commonly encountered in the Western and Israeli press.

The accord brokered in Beijing offers hope for creating a more tranquil Middle East, reducing tensions, and may encourage Iran to choose a more peaceful path than using a hostile and aggressive position toward countries in the region. Such an outcome would be of huge benefit for Israel, which has been one of the primary targets of Iranian hostility, alongside Saudi Arabia and America.

For years, the US and Israel have tried everything to deal with Iran, but nothing has worked.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has issued more than a decade of threats related to the Iranian nuclear program, but to no avail. Iran is closer to having the material and know-how for the bomb than ever before.

President Barack Obama sought to coax Tehran into being a better global citizen through a narrowly defined nuclear pact known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The deal was heavy on concessions from the US and other global powers and it only seemed to accelerate Iranian meddling in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

President Donald Trump ripped up the JCPOA in favor of “maximum pressure” via sanctions, along with the targeted killing of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani. The Iranian government advanced its uranium enrichment program in response and launched a brazen attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities in 2019.

And President Joe Biden attempted to return to the pre-Trump status quo, only to find the Iranians unwilling to roll the clock back to 2016 and instead determined to stay the course on their path of escalation and provocation. Along the way, Iranian threats, attacks and support for terror groups targeting Jews and Israel never slowed down.

Saudi Arabia’s approach is different and for that reason it offers hope, regardless of what country played the role of mediator. As officials from both sides have stated, the accord offers the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and commitments toward de-escalation and respect for the sovereignty of states.

But it is more than that. The breakthrough dovetails with the commitment of Saudi Arabia and its neighbors to turn the page on the region’s turbulent history.

As influential Sunni leaders such as Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, and Muslim World League chief Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa have repeatedly emphasized, the Muslim world must move past the theological and tribalist disagreements that have stood in the way of its collective advancement.

As a rabbi, a longtime advocate for peace and a supporter of closer ties between Israel and Muslim countries, I see cause for new opportunities and a new dynamic in the region. By having Saudi Arabia at the diplomatic table with Iran, and potentially motivating neighbors such as Abraham Accords signatories Bahrain and the UAE to join, Israel could have a proxy voice in potentially shaping a less bellicose Iran.

Israelis want the same as Saudis from Iran — a country content to operate within its own borders, no longer threatening the security of its neighbors, and sharing in the rich resources of the region.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has been heavily focused on economic development for its Vision 2030 plan and thus views mended relations with Israel as a necessity. Similarly, as Iran is in dire economic straits, warming relations with Israel could only benefit Iranians. Perhaps it will take the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to underscore that reality to Iran as well.

The breakthrough dovetails with the commitment of Saudi Arabia and its neighbors to turn the page on the region’s turbulent history.

Rabbi Marc Schneier

Unfortunately, the prevailing wisdom in Israel — and even among large parts of the US punditry community — has been of the Saudi-Iran agreement as a “loss” for Israel. Such an assessment might be narrow-minded.

New approaches to peace always provoke skepticism, but they should be analyzed on intentions and implementation.

Last month, I led the first ever US synagogue delegation to the Kingdom and heard the same refrain, then saw it manifested days later through the Iran deal. I have no doubt about the sincerity of Saudi intentions.

Let us hope this is an incentive for Tehran. For the rest of us, it may be the best hope right now and one we should consider.

  • Rabbi Marc Schneier is president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and a noted adviser to many Gulf states. He is recognized as one of the most influential Jewish figures in the Muslim world.
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