Not long ago, many were hopeful about a potential Middle East deal involving the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Israel. However, the current situation is grim, marked by death, destruction, and an unfolding catastrophe. The excitement over possible Saudi-Israeli normalization has been overshadowed by the recent war.
Despite some being surprised by Hamas’s attacks and the outbreak of a major war on October 7, others had feared such violence for a while. The unresolved Palestinian issue took a backseat due to the eagerness of both the U.S. and Israel to pursue normalization with Saudi Arabia.
For the U.S., particularly President Joe Biden, brokering such a deal would secure a historical legacy and serve as a diplomatic talking point for the 2024 election. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saw Saudi recognition as a strategic victory, potentially reducing pressure on Israel to make significant concessions for a lasting peace.
With the war underway, there was a sense that a humanitarian crisis was imminent. While Arab states were expected to condemn Israel, it was unclear how they would leverage their influence. The traditional “oil card” was no longer as influential, so the focus shifted to how Saudi Arabia would use its diplomatic tools to shape the future of the region.
As the conflict continues, both the U.S. and Israel are losing credibility internationally. Saudi Arabia, positioning itself as the guardian of Islam’s holiest sites, is leading a diplomatic effort to challenge the legality of Israeli military actions. Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan heads a committee touring international capitals, advocating for an immediate cease-fire. The committee’s presence in Beijing and Moscow signals Saudi Arabia’s alternative options in the changing global landscape.
In addition to diplomatic efforts, Saudi Arabia is using silence as a tool, refusing any political discussions before a cease-fire. This stance puts pressure on Israel by denying it a clear political path after the campaign. The Saudi ruling elites believe discussing the “day after” won’t contribute to a permanent cease-fire and could inadvertently legitimize the ongoing Israeli campaign.