The United Arab Emirates was the first significant Gulf nation to break with the Muslim Brotherhood and pursue a public arrangement with Israel. Temporarily, the UAE, the Saudis and some other players made up a coalition opposed to Iran and the Brotherhood. Lately, though the UAE and the Saudis have been quarreling. And the Saudis have been looking to go back to their usual routine of keeping their options open with an Iran meeting, developing ties with China, and the resumption of hostility to Israel.
While optimists promise a Saudi addition to the Abraham Accords, that seems increasingly unlikely. The Accords leveraged political support in the Trump administration against Iran. That no longer exists.
And things have changed.
The Jerusalem Post, rather witlessly, ran a Saudi POV article that blames the lack of a Saudi-Israel deal on Israel. A sensible person reading between the lines understands that it’s really UAE bashing.
The Saudi officials conveyed a clear message: They will not be deceived by Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden when it comes to normalization. They made it clear that they won’t copy the United Arab Emirates’ approach of hastily signing agreements with Israel without ensuring a reciprocated outcome.
Within Saudi Arabia, a prevailing sentiment suggests that Israel and then-US President Donald Trump misled the UAE and Bahrain. There’s a growing perception that the commitments laid out in the Abraham Accords went unmet. It’s believed that the United Arab Emirates entered the normalization agreement without substantial gains, neither in terms of the Palestinian situation nor concerning the acquisition of the F-35 stealth fighter aircraft. Simultaneously, considerable criticism from Arab and Muslim quarters has arisen in response to this agreement. As a result, the Emirates have shown a slowdown in their pursuit of substantial gas deals with Israel.
According to the officials I conversed with, a stark contrast emerges. Saudi Arabia’s leadership encompasses not just Arab nations but the entire Muslim world. Consequently, they express an unwavering stance against replicating the UAE’s approach. They articulated that Saudi Arabia wouldn’t consider signing without upfront assurances. These sources emphasized that the UAE found themselves ensnared, acknowledging Israel and the US’s influence over them.
The actual Saudi message here isn’t about Israel, it’s about the UAE. The Saudis are using talk of a deal to take shots at the UAE.
In short, any possible deal appears to be hostage to tensions between the Saudis and the UAE. But I’m skeptical the Saudis were ever serious anyway. The Saudi strategy has always been to play all sides against each other. Using talk of a Saudi-Israel deal to undermine the UAE would be classical Saudi behavior.