Why Saudi Arabia Should Make Peace With Israel Now
I spent the weekend reading Ben Hubbard’s book MBS, about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Hubbard, who is The New York Times‘ Beirut bureau chief, paints both a flattering and damning portrait. Flattering because it’s clear that MBS is a visionary who has had the courage to take on the kingdom’s religious fanatics, who basically have controlled the kingdom since 1979. The liberal reforms that MBS is making are extraordinary, with women driving, movie theaters open, concert venues showing operas, and Saudi Arabia slowly opening to the West.
The book is damning because Hubbard alleges that MBS has not improved, and indeed may have worsened, Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, with Jamal Khasshogi — whom Hubbard exposes as having been largely run by a Qatari operative — being the prime example of shocking political murder.
But the most interesting part of the biography as it pertains to the Middle East is Hubbard’s portrayal of MBS as someone with zero animus toward Israel. Indeed, Hubbard confirms that MBS sees in Israel not just a country that poses no threat, but a country that is technologically, economically, and militarily a great potential ally.
This should be welcome news to the American Jewish community, who ought to welcome MBS’s outreach to Israel and do everything in our power to encourage him to make peace with Israel prior to January 20.
I recognize that MBS may wish to wait for a new administration and use a potential peace treaty with Israel as leverage for other Saudi needs, but this would be a mistake.
President Donald Trump’s coalition consists of two key demographics that are vital to America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia: pro-Israel Jews and evangelical Christians. The same is not true of many of Biden’s core constituents, to whom Israel is — falsely of course — a human-rights abusing occupier. And while this is not true for Biden himself, it is certainly true for those he served with in the Obama administration, like Ben Rhodes and Susan Rice.
If MBS would make peace with Israel now, he would lock in support and deep gratitude from these two vocal and influential constituencies.
Not only is Saudi Arabia the richest and most influential Arab country, it is quite literally the epicenter of Islam and the focus of world Islamic pilgrimage. In one sweep, peace with Israel would have Muslims around the world thinking differently of Israel, even as extremists who hate Saudi Arabia and want to see it toppled would dig in their heels, thereby exposing just how far out of the mainstream they are.
In Israel, Saudi Arabia would gain a valuable ally against their existential enemy Iran. And Saudi Arabia faces a far greater threat from Iran than even Israel does.
To be sure, antisemitic and genocidal Iran, with its illegal and secret nuclear program, is a direct threat to Israel existence. If it could, Iran would murder every Jew on earth, especially the six million congregated in Israel, as they repeatedly threaten. But they also know that if they ever dropped a bomb on Israel, God forbid, they would face massive retaliation that would wipe them off the earth. So any nuclear attack on Israel would be the end of Iran.
Not so for Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia does not have an army strong enough to repel Iran. And unlike Israel, it does not have nuclear weapons that can be employed in a retaliatory strike should the Iranians go nuclear. It would therefore have to rely on the United States, or an American-led coalition, to evict Iran.
There is scant American stomach for such an action, and no doubt, MBS is well-aware of that. But in a peace treaty with Israel, he could cement an economic, diplomatic, and military alliance with the Middle East’s strongest nation whose air force alone could decimate much of Iran’s critical air defenses and infrastructure.
I am not suggesting that Israel would fight Saudi Arabia’s battles. I am suggesting that with a peace treaty between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the mullahs in Iran would be well aware that they are now ringed by allies acting in concert to stop their aggression and their undisguised attempt at Middle East hegemony. They will think twice before they embark on any kind of military adventurism.
Would the United States come to Saudi Arabia’s rescue? Now that America is the world’s foremost producer of oil, it’s much more doubtful. But a Saudi Arabia that has made peace with Israel would have boisterous political friends in America.
It shows you how far our world has come that we’re discussing American Jews, rather than American Muslims, potentially advocating for Saudi Arabia. Just a few years ago, Saudi Arabia was the center of extremist Wahhabi ideology that was exporting its fanatical dogma to the rest of the world, with hundreds of millions of dollars funding madrasas and indoctrinating Muslim youth. Now, MBS is leading a cultural revolution in Saudi Arabia that is purging it of its soul-destroying censorship, and is reaching out to the West. Just recently, he played host to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And if that isn’t revolutionary, nothing is.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America” and is the author of The Israel Warrior, is the international best-selling author of 33 books. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley.