Gulfif : Saudi Arabia’s Normalization with Israel Could Be a Security Nightmare by Ali Alsayegh

If any normalization is to occur with Israel, the Saudi state must be conscious of a possible awakening of dormant Islamist insurgents within its territory.

by Ali Alsayegh : he is a PhD Candidate and Postgraduate Teaching Associate of Middle East politics at the University of Exeter, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies (IAIS). He previously worked as the Communications Officer for the United Nations Development Programme in Kuwait. His current academic work revolves around developing the theory of Emotional Entrepreneurialism which seeks to capture how political leaders can stimulate emotional arousals within their followers to motivate both peaceful and violent political mobilization.

With Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s (MBS) declaration earlier in the year that Israel could be a ‘potential ally’—possibly referring to increased security cooperation between the two countries—many have begun claiming that a future normalization is inevitable.

In past years, Saudi Arabia has conditioned such a normalization upon the Palestinians and Israelis coming to a resolution in accordance with the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. The Kingdom stands to benefit from normalization economically, as Israeli-Saudi mutual investment could go far towards achieving MBS’ “Vision 2030” benchmarks, as well as militarily, as Riyadh and Tel Aviv could begin to openly cooperate through weapons transfers and intelligence sharing. However, normalization with Israel could have a significant downside: it could exacerbate political tensions within the country, as anti-Israeli sentiment is still very common among Saudi citizens.

This point is particularly salient when considering the reaction of former Islamist insurgents—insurgents who, during the mid-2000s, were partially motivated to engage in terrorist activities in the region and beyond based on a sense of religious obligation to fight against non-Muslim occupiers (and their allies) within Muslim lands. Saudi Arabia’s close security cooperation with the United States has sometimes led insurgents to target Riyadh for Washington’s actions; from 2003 to 2004, following the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Al-Qaeda-linked militants launched eight terrorist attacks inside the kingdom, leading to widespread panic and a half-decade-long counterterrorism campaign. READ MORE