According to three regional sources familiar with the talks, Saudi Arabia is determined to secure a military pact requiring the US to defend the kingdom in exchange for opening ties with Israel, and will not hold up a deal even if Israel does not offer major concessions to Palestinians in their bid for statehood.
When the matter was originally addressed between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Joe Biden during the US president’s visit to Saudi Arabia in July 2022, the kingdom first requested cast-iron, NATO-style defensive assurances.
Instead, a US source said it may resemble deals Washington has with Asian countries, or it could be comparable to a US arrangement with Bahrain, where the US Navy Fifth Fleet is stationed. A similar deal would not require legislative approval.
According to the US source, Washington might sweeten any arrangement by classifying Saudi Arabia as a Major Non-NATO Ally, a position also granted to Israel.
However, these sources said Saudi Arabia would not accept anything less than binding promises of US security if attacked, such as the Sept. 14, 2019 missile strikes on its oil sites, which shook global markets. Saudi Arabia and the United States blamed Iran, the kingdom’s regional adversary, though Tehran denied any involvement.
Agreements giving the world’s biggest oil exporter U.S. protection in return for normalization with Israel would reshape the Middle East by bringing together two longtime foes and binding Riyadh to Washington after China’s inroads in the region. For Biden, it would be a diplomatic victory to vaunt before the 2024 U.S. election.
The Palestinians could get some Israeli restrictions eased but such moves would fall short of their aspirations for a state. As with other Arab-Israeli deals forged over the decades, the Palestinian core demand for statehood would take a back seat, the three regional sources familiar with the talks said.
“The normalisation will be between Israel and Saudi Arabia. If the Palestinians oppose it the kingdom will continue in its path,” said one of the regional sources. “Saudi Arabia supports a peace plan for the Palestinians, but this time it wanted something for Saudi Arabia, not just for the Palestinians.”
The Saudi government did not respond to emailed questions about this article.