In a growing sign of coordination between Riyadh and Jerusalem, the Saudi Arabian national soccer team came to Israel, passed through Israeli security and visited Jerusalem for the first time ever. The delegation then prayed on the Temple Mount before playing against the ‘”Palestinian” national soccer team for both the 2022 World Cup and the 2023 Asia Cup qualifier.
The Saudi officials were accompanied by the Jordanian Waqf, the religious custodians of the Temple Mount. During their visit to the site, several protesters showed up opposing the visit. Israeli police detained the protesters and distanced them from the location. The Saudis were escorted by a private security company who reportedly cursed at the protesters reports the JPost.
Players from #SaudiArabia‘s national soccer team traveled to #Jerusalem‘s Old City to pray at one of Islam’s holiest sites. https://t.co/71DzPWoG3N
— Saudi Gazette (@Saudi_Gazette) October 14, 2019
President of the Saudi Soccer Federation, Yasser Al-Mishal called it the “most beautiful day of my life.”
The largely peaceful reception lies in sharp contrast to that received by pro-Israel Saudi blogger Mohammad Saud who was spat on, had objects thrown at him and was the target of epithets back in July of this year. The attacks were spurred by the a PA loyalist group who saw the visit as “normalization” with Israel. When that happened, some Saudi commentators rallied to Saud’s defense decrying their “shameful” behavior.
It should be noted that Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic ties with Israel but does share a common enemy – Iran. This is why they have been working closely with Trump and attended his cabinet’s Economic conference in Bahrain, which was boycotted by the PA. Additionally, when PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas addressed the UN in September, he condemned the aggression of the Iranian backed Houthis who attacked Saudi oil fields.
It should also be noted that Saudi Arabia has never been involved in any of the many wars against Israel.
In 2015, the Saudi Football Federation had refused to play against the “Palestinian” team in Jerusalem for both the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers, in compliance with the Arab League’s Israel boycott.