US-Saudi Arabia defence pact tied to Israel deal

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is committed to obtaining a military agreement with the US that would oblige the US to defend the kingdom in exchange for establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, Reuters reported citing three sources familiar with the matter.

The kingdom is determined to proceed with the deal even if Israel does not make significant concessions to the Palestinians in their pursuit of statehood.

However, the agreement may not provide the same level of robust defence guarantees similar to those of NATO, which the kingdom had initially hoped for during discussions between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and US President Joe Biden during Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia in July 2022.

Instead, a US source said it could look like treaties Washington has with Asian states or, if that would not win US Congress approval, it could be similar to a US agreement with Bahrain, where the US Navy Fifth Fleet is based. Such an agreement would not need congressional backing.

Washington could also sweeten any deal by designating Saudi Arabia a Major Non-NATO Ally, a status already given to Israel, the US source said.

However, Saudi Arabia insists on US protection in case of attacks, such as the 2019 missile strikes on its oil sites. Both Riyadh and Washington blame Iran, the kingdom’s regional rival, for the attacks, although Tehran denies involvement.

Agreements giving the world’s biggest oil exporter US protection in return for normalisation with Israel would reshape the Middle East by bringing together two longtime foes and binding Riyadh to Washington after China’s inroads in the region.

For Biden, it would be a diplomatic victory to vaunt before the 2024 US election.

The Palestinians could get some Israeli restrictions eased but such moves would fall short of their aspirations for a state.

As with other Arab-Israeli deals forged over the decades, the Palestinian core demand for statehood would take a back seat, the three regional sources familiar with the talks said.

“The normalisation will be between Israel and Saudi Arabia. If the Palestinians oppose it the kingdom will continue in its path,” said one of the regional sources. “Saudi Arabia supports a peace plan for the Palestinians, but this time it wanted something for Saudi Arabia, not just for the Palestinians.”

The Saudi government and the US State Department did not respond to emailed questions about this article. –Agencies