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Saudi Arabia has asked the US for help with developing a “civilian nuclear program” and for fewer restrictions on arms purchases in exchange for normalizing ties with Israel, the New York Times (NYT) reports.
Normalization between Tel Aviv and Riyadh would fulfill several goals of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, chief among them “downgrading the relative importance of the Palestinian issue,” analysts told the NYT.
“I certainly believe that the peace agreement between us and the Saudis will lead to an agreement with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu told Italian daily La Repubblica on 9 March.
Such a deal would also be the most significant step yet towards fulfilling Netanyahu’s promise to expand on the Trump-era Abraham Accords signed between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan.
While Saudi Arabia has yet to sign the normalization agreement officially – citing its ‘concern’ for the mistreatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories – the country has already opened its airspace to Israeli flights and has hosted Israeli business people and officials over the past few years.
Nonetheless, questions remain about the viability of the kingdom’s latest demands due to the frosty relationship between Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) and US President Joe Biden.
US officials are reportedly also wary of Riyadh’s nuclear aspirations, as this could be the first step towards developing nuclear weapons.
Moreover, even if a backroom deal is reached, the NYT claims Biden is likely to face pushback from congress, as over the past year, several lawmakers have pressed the White House to downgrade relations with Saudi Arabia.
“Our relationship with Saudi Arabia has to be a direct bilateral relationship … It should not run through Israel,” Senator Christopher S. Murphy told the NYT.
“The Saudis have been consistently behaving badly, over and over,” he added before saying that selling more weapons to the kingdom should come “in exchange for better behavior toward the United States, not just better behavior toward Israel.”
The decades-long relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia took a dramatic plunge last year following the start of the war in Ukraine, as the kingdom, alongside a large majority of countries worldwide, refused to cut ties with Russia.
Washington was further pushed to the brink after the OPEC+ group of countries – including Saudi Arabia and Russia – announced a major oil production cut despite US officials’ intense lobbying of Gulf states.
Despite all of this, the Biden White House approved several new arms sales to Saudi Arabia last year, ignoring his campaign promises to make the kingdom a “pariah” and the calamity US bombs have caused in Yemen.
Last year, Biden also gave MbS immunity for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi after the crown prince was named prime minister.