In a historic move, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman acknowledged Israel’s right to exist, in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, while adding fuel to an already raging fire by comparing Iran’s leader to Hitler.
“I believe that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation,” the Saudi Prince told Goldberg. “I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land, but we have to have a peace agreement to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations.”
Saudi Arabia still does not have official diplomatic relations with Israel. Although it is unprecedented for a Saudi leader to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish State, bin Salman’s remarks were not shocking and unexpected. Goldberg noted that “the Saudis, like many Arab leaders, have tired of the Palestinians,” reflecting recent reports of “fraying” relations between Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Israel, in contrast, has much to offer Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries in the region according to Prince Salman.
“Israel is a big economy compared to their size and it’s a growing economy, and of course there are a lot of interests we share with Israel and if there is peace, there would be a lot of interest between Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and countries like Egypt and Jordan.”
According to Prince bin Salman, religious differences between Saudi Arabia and Israel would not necessarily preclude the development of bilateral relations between both countries.
“Our country doesn’t have a problem with Jews,” he claimed. “Our Prophet Muhammad married a Jewish woman. Not just a friend—he married her. Our prophet, his neighbors were Jewish.”
“You will find a lot of Jews in Saudi Arabia coming from America, coming from Europe,” he continued. “There are no problems between Christian and Muslims and Jews. We have problems like you would find anywhere in the world, among some people. But the normal sort of problems.”
Nevertheless, bin Salman expressed anxiety over Israeli policy on the Temple Mount, the Jewish people’s holiest site.
“We have religious concerns about the fate of the holy mosque in Jerusalem and about the rights of the Palestinian people,” he said in the interview. “This is what we have. We don’t have any objection against any other people.”
The motives behind Prince Salman’s receptiveness to initiate relations with Israel may be twofold. Prince Salman is advocating a pet project dubbed Vision 2030, a wide-reaching plan to remove Saudi Arabia’s dependence on exporting finite oil as the basis for its economy. He may therefore views Israel as an economic and technological power in the region that could work to Saudi Arabia’s advantage.
Even more influential might be a common nemesis shared by Israel and Saudi Arabia in Iran. Bin Salman once again compared the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to Hitler, makes is a powerful incentive.
“I believe the Iranian supreme leader makes Hitler look good,” Prince Salman said. “Hitler didn’t do what the supreme leader is trying to do. Hitler tried to conquer Europe … But the supreme leader is trying to conquer the world. He believes he owns the world. They are both evil guys,” he said to
“He is the Hitler of the Middle East. In the 1920s and 1930s, no one saw Hitler as a danger,” bin Salman added. “We don’t want to see what happened in Europe happen in the Middle East. We want to stop this through political moves, economic moves, intelligence moves. We want to avoid war.”
Prince Salman was critical of the influence the previous White House administration had on the region and specifically, with regards to Iran.
“President Obama believed that if he gave Iran opportunities to open up, it would change,” Salman explained. “But with a regime based on this ideology, it will not open up soon. Sixty percent of the Iranian economy is controlled by the Revolutionary Guard. The economic benefits of the Iran nuclear deal are not going to the people.”
The Prince noted that little, if any, of the sanctions relief for Iran under the 2015 international nuclear deal was funnelled to the Iranian military instead of the Iranian society. Prince Salman also doubted the international nuclear agreement’s likelihood of helping to reform Iran for the better.
“For Saudi Arabia, there is a 0.1 percent chance that this deal would work to change the country,” Prince Salman said. “For President Obama it was 50 percent. But even if there’s a 50 percent chance that it would work, we can’t risk it. The other 50 percent is war. We have to go to a scenario where there is no war.”