Bepi Pezzulli
International counsel & foreign policy adviser

Davos Sparks Game: Unveiling Saudi-Israel dynamics

The World Economic Forum in Davos has introduced a surprising twist into the Middle East crisis as Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, suggested Riyadh’s potential recognition of Israel. This development ensues the October 7th Hamas terrorist attack against Israel, prompting Saudi Arabia to express a willingness to recognize Israel as part of a broader resolution to the Palestinian issue.

Prince bin Farhan emphasized the crucial link between regional stability and the need for both Israeli and Palestinian peace, the latter contingent upon establishing some form of Palestinian statehood. This aligns with US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken’s intricate diplomatic pursuit, aiming for Israeli endorsement of a two-state solution in exchange for broader acknowledgment by moderate Arab nations of Israel’s legitimacy and security rights in the Middle East.

This strategic recalibration follows Saudi Arabia’s suspension of US-backed plans to normalize ties with Israel post the Israel-Hamas conflict outbreak, which exacted a significant toll in Israeli lives and further strained relations. Securing normalization with Saudi Arabia would be a considerable achievement for Israel, building on the Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan.

For Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, forging ties with Israel is integral to implementing ‘Vision 2030,’ an ambitious plan for economic diversification and modernization, shifting away from oil dependency toward renewable energies, non-religious tourism, and innovation. Israel’s prowess in the technology industry makes it a valuable partner in this transformation.

The potential deal holds strategic significance for Israel as well, as highlighted by an IDF study cited by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs focusing on Saudi Arabia’s influence in key maritime locations, such as the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandab Strait. This influence could stabilize and strengthen Israel’s southern geostrategic border, potentially altering Israel’s international standing and positively impacting its economy.

In a Davos interview, Blinken stressed the US commitment to the two-state policy, urging Israel to support the Palestinian Authority as the exclusive negotiating counterparty for sustained stability. According to the Times of Israel, a recent meeting between Blinken and bin Salman in the Saudi oasis town of Al Ula indicate ongoing normalization talks, providing hope for diplomatic progress.

US National Security Advisor Jacob J. Sullivan likewise outlined US endeavors toward Middle East de-escalation, emphasizing integration among regional players for heightened stability through a two-state solution. Sullivan laid out four key principles for a post-war political settlement, focusing on preventing terror attacks, fostering peace between Israel and Arab nations, establishing a Palestinian state, and ensuring security assurances for Israel.

The unfolding events suggest a potential return of the Palestinian Authority to govern the Gaza Strip, marking a significant development in the ongoing diplomatic landscape.

In the covert realm of diplomatic maneuvering, talks between Saudi Arabia and Israel have persisted discreetly, shielded from the spotlight. The recent Hamas attack, a disruptive force, has momentarily complicated the efforts. However, the enduring force of strategic interests often prevails over immediate setbacks. In the aftermath, the Hamas terrorist attack has backfired placing the Palestinians at a crossroads—a consequential juncture demanding a decisive take-or-leave choice: their leadership, who have consistently been the obstacle, now have nowhere to hide.

About the Author
Giuseppe Levi Pezzulli ("Bepi") is a Solicitor specialised in International financial law and a foreign policy scholar. His research interest is economic statecraft. In 2018, he published "An alternative view of Brexit" (Milano Finanza Books), which investigates the economic and geopolitical implications of Brexit. In 2023, "Brave bucks" (Armando Publishing House), which highlights the role of private capital in the industrial policy mix. Formerly an Editor-in-Chief of La Voce Repubblicana; is a columnist for the Italian daily financial newspaper Milano Finanza; a pundit for the financial TV channel CNBC; and a Middle East analyst for Longitude magazine. He received degrees at Luiss Guido Carli in Rome (LLB), New York University (LLM), and Columbia University (JD).
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