July 22, 2016
A retired Saudi general visited Israel this week for a series of meetings, in what is the latest sign of increasing dialogue, public appearances, and quiet cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Anwar Eshki, who previously served in senior positions in the Saudi military and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, headed a delegation of Saudi academics and businessmen to Israel. They met with Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold; IDF Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories; and opposition Knesset members, including Yair Lapid, the chairman of the Yesh Atid party. Haaretz diplomatic reporter Barak Ravid notedthat the visit was “highly unusual” and must have been approved by the Saudi government.
Public conversations between Israeli and Saudi figures have been increasingly frequent and visible in recent months. Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror and former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal engaged in a public discussion on regional issues at an event at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in May. Although the two former officials differed on the Mideast peace process, both emphasized the threat posed by Iran. That same month, officials from Israel and Saudi Arabia revealed that representatives from their countries had been engaging in secret meetings since 2014 to discuss Iran’s threat to the region. At an eventin June 2015 at the Council on Foreign Relations, Eshki and Gold discussed their shared concern about Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and its regional aggression. And in May 2014, Faisal metwith Israel’s former head of military intelligence Amos Yadlin at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.
As part of an agreement with Egypt to reclaim two Red Sea islands that it had once controlled—a move approved by Israel, whose shipping capabilities could have been affected—Saudi Arabia vowed to honor the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, which guarantees Israel full maritime passage rights in the Red Sea and through the Straits of Tiran. Experts from the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies argued in a white paper after the agreement was reached that “the very fact that Saudi Arabia now undertakes to uphold in practice the obligations assumed by Egypt under the peace treaty means that Israel’s place in the region is no longer perceived by Arab leader Saudi Arabia as an anomaly to be corrected.”