Israels Covert Diplomacy in Lebanon

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Nowadays direct flights between the Gulf and Israel, though still unexplained publicly, are frequently reported on social media. Israeli businesses operate in the UAE via companies registered in Europe. Bills of lading are produced from an intermediary country, often Jordan or Cyprus.

Like the Emiratis, the Saudis have quietly engaged Israeli companies, especially in the security sphere. In , when hackers breached the computer system of Saudi Aramco, the national oil company, Israeli businesses were called in. In Israeli media were allowed by military censors to report that the Israeli and Saudi chiefs of staff had met at a Washington conference for commanders of US-allied armies.

The Saudis denied the story. Intelligence cooperation between Israel and the Gulf states is even more secretive — although Israeli politicians and officials do refer to it occasionally. Western sources confirm the existence of such cooperation. Unofficial Saudi spokesmen say cooperation with Israel is confined to the subjects of Iran and counter-terrorism — and complain that the Israelis exaggerate its extent for propaganda purposes.


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There are practical things that need to be sorted out, so you end up with a routine relationship which can create more senior contact and a more strategic outlook on both sides. It is a fairly open secret. On the Saudi side, however, there are complaints that the relationship is an unequal one.

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Israel, it is said, has not always responded to requests for intelligence, even when submitted via the US. And there are indeed indications of an internal debate in Israel about the value of links with the kingdom. There is also still a lack of trust between the two sides.

They have very different intelligence cultures. The Israelis are world-class and the Gulfies are not. The Israelis would not go into a relationship unless they get some proper dividend. But the trend was already clear under Obama. Subsequent leaks pointed to a key role for the Saudis in pressuring the Palestinians.

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Unusually, MBS was then reined in by his father. The resumption of Saudi financial aid to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority — which was also a response to Qatari support for Hamas-ruled Gaza — was another clue.

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In the background, however were other signs of Saudi flexibility: in March a commercial flight from Delhi to Tel Aviv was allowed for the first time to cross Saudi airspace. But there was a significant qualification. Air India!

Israel's Covert Diplomacy In Lebanon

These increasingly cosy relationships suffered a serious blow with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October Amid international condemnation and constantly changing Saudi responses, the Israeli government was initially silent. Surveillance equipment manufactured by the Israeli company NSO was allegedly used to track the Saudi journalist, according to the Washington Post.

And one of the two top aides to MBS who were blamed for the killing was the most senior Saudi official to have visited Israel in search of state-of-the-art surveillance technology , reported the Wall Street Journal. It revealed too that new arrangements had been put in place to allow Israel businessmen to quietly visit the kingdom. Among the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, alarm seems to have subsided.

But on the eve of the Warsaw conference, a leaked Israeli foreign ministry report assessed that the Saudis were not prepared to go further in developing overt relations. The same point was made by the Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, another ex-spymaster. The attitudes of Gulf governments have clearly changed.

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But the bottom line is that Israel has failed to provide the incentives required for the Saudis and their allies to come out of the closet, to allow them to reconcile geopolitical logic with popular sentiment, because it has not offered anything approaching an acceptable deal for the Palestinians. Many Israelis agree.

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