Report claims Israel and Saudi Arabia in talks to establish economic ties

A newspaper report has claimed that Saudi Arabia and Israel are in talks to establish economic ties.

The Times, citing Arab and American sources, claims that a warming in Israeli-Saudi relations would start with small steps, such as allowing Israeli businesses to operate in the Gulf, and letting the Israeli national airline El Al fly over Saudi airspace.

Officials close to Saudi Arabia have denied the story and called the report no more than wishful thinking by the US administration.

Israel and the Gulf states have drawn closer in recent years; mutual fear of Iran, ISIS and perceived American withdrawal from the region under Obama have proved catalysts for increased cooperation.

A Saudi delegation led by a retired general made a trip to Israel last year and a former Saudi official has publically appeared on a panel with three Israeli generals. Also, according to Yediot Ahronot, the US, Palestinian Authority (PA), Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel are in negotiations to coordinate the first flight of Palestinian pilgrims from Ben Gurion airport to Saudi Arabia.

A senior Israeli source has said the talks – initiated following US President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel in May – are already in advanced stages.

Israeli government officials have expressed hope that closer relations with Arab states could help facilitate an “outside-in” Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Palestinians by and large do not favour this approach, and fear that Israel will normalise relations with its Arab neighbours before a peace agreement is achieved.

Economic ties between Israel and the Gulf would not be unprecedented. Israel had a trade office in Doha until early 2009 when Qatar closed it at the height of the Gaza war.  However, formal economic links between Israel and Saudi Arabia would be the most public alliance between Israel and the Gulf in nearly a decade.