The Saudi-Iran deal shows that ‘unlikely shifts in power and relations are possible’, says analystIsrael’s former spymaster has called for his country to explore whether a rapprochement with Iran is possible following a dramatic breakthrough in relations between Tehran and Riyadh last week.
Efraim Halevy, the former director of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, made the comments on Wednesday evening in an interview on CNN.
Describing the deals as “very startling”, Halevy urged Israeli leaders not to “prejudge” the deal but to find ways of working with the new development.
“[Israel should] understand what it is that brought the Iranians to their rapprochement with Saudi Arabia,” said Halevy.
‘The latest development between Iran and Saudi Arabia…underscores that unlikely shifts in power and relations are possible’
– Yonatan Touval, Middle East analyst
Halevy went on to ask whether “the time has come for Israel also to seek a different policy towards Iran”.
Israel should explore in a “concealed manner” the possibility of rapprochement between Israel and Iran, said Halevy.
While Halevy accepted that such a possibility might be low, he cautioned that such a deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia also looked inconceivable just weeks ago.
Following Chinese-led negotiations, Tehran and Riyadh agreed to resume diplomatic relations last week and reopen embassies within two months, according to a statement released by both sides.
That China could pull off such an agreement should be more deeply analysed, said Halevy.
The Chinese format could provide a “different approach to the Iranian-Israeli conflict” which Tel Aviv had not previously considered, added the former spy chief.
“We had a very, very good relationship with Iran under the previous leadership of the Shah. There is no real conflict of interest between Israel and Iran.
“We don’t have a territorial confrontation. We don’t have a common border and there is no real reason that there should be a state of war between Israel and Iran,” said Halevy.
‘Unlikely power shifts are possible’
Yonatan Touval, an analyst at the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies (Mitvim), called the remarks “wise”.
“I very much hope that the Israeli government, or at least its security establishment, hears them,” said Touval, speaking to Middle East Eye.
As part of the deal, there is no suggestion that Iran placed conditions on Saudi Arabia drawing closer to Israel.
There have been growing rumours that there could be a normalisation deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have official diplomatic relations, but Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met secretly with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the kingdom in 2020, according to several Israeli media reports at the time.
Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud earlier this year also said that the kingdom will not normalise relations with Israel until Palestinians are granted statehood.
Nonetheless, Touval notes that the Israeli establishment has a responsibility to examine such opportunities.
“Indeed, the latest development between Iran and Saudi Arabia – assuming it materialises – underscores that unlikely shifts in power and relations are possible,” said Touval.
“The benefits to Israel from some kind of rapprochement with Iran would be huge,” he added.
Only yesterday the Saudi finance minister, Mohammed Al-Jadaan said that Saudi investments in Iran could happen “very quickly” as long as the agreements were respected and upheld.
“Assuming the understanding [between Israel and Iran] would be primarily security-related, such a development would dramatically decrease tensions with the Iranian proxy of Hezbollah, which probably poses the greatest security threat to Israel right now,” Touval argued.
As well as concluding some understanding with Iran on its nuclear programme, a rapprochement “might also help Israel turn its focus to its real existential threat: that of its continued occupation of the West Bank and its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians,” he said.
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