'Saudis Support Naturalization’ with Israel: What’s Behind the Surprising Hashtag?

Published June 29th, 2017 - 06:00 GMT
There are currently no diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Could that be about to change? (Left: the Kremlin, Right: Wikimedia Commons)
There are currently no diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Could that be about to change? (Left: the Kremlin, Right: Wikimedia Commons)

“Saudis support naturalization” with Israel. This, the surprising hashtag that has been trending on Twitter in the Gulf state over the last few days.

Saudi Arabia currently has no diplomatic ties with Israel, which it does not recognize, and anti-Israeli sentiment has typically been widespread in the kingdom.

This much is evident from the majority of the responses to the hashtag, which directed vitriol towards any such naturalization-backing Saudis.

It is [to be expected] that there are [some] #SaudisSupportNormalization. In every country there are superficial, absent, ignorant, greedy traitors. But their presence and their raised voices will not erase the facts!

The source of this hashtag is the [Israeli] occupation, and the commenters [who use it] are delusional. I cannot believe that there is a Saudi or a Muslim who would be satisfied with normalization with a terrorist state occupying Arab land.

The most important doctrine of Israel is the demolition of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the construction of the Temple of Solomon. Normalization is not agreement for two parties, but rather is [an expression of] loyalty, and that is apostasy.

Still, and rather unexpectedly, some did use the tag to express their backing for dialogue and the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two Middle Eastern states.

There is no shame in peace, dialogue and agreement. In the end, it is what all peoples and nations want and is the best choice for all.

They did so despite critics of government policy in the Gulf state risking hefty prison sentences. That in itself is a hint at a softening of attitudes with regards to Israel in Saudi Arabia, where there is evidence to suggest a potential shift in government policy towards Tel Aviv.

A photo making the rounds on social media last week purporting to show a “Saudia” plane arriving at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport may have turned out to be a fake. There continue to be no regular planes flying between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Today, a Saudi airplane in Israel. These are the descendants of Abu Lahab [the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, who was opposed to him]

Still, last month US President Donald Trump boarded what may have been the very first direct flight from Riyadh to Tel Aviv. It was only one flight, but some commentators have emphasized its symbolic importance within the context of Trump’s visit to the region.

John R. Bradley wrote in The Spectator that Trump’s Middle East trip had highlighted his “championing” of a “new geopolitical reality”.

In this new reality, Bradley suggested, Saudi policy may be refocused to consider “Iran, not Israel [...as its] regional enemy.”

His evidence? He points to Israeli Channel 2’s interview earlier this month with a Saudi political analyst in Jeddah, which received no backlash from the authorities, indicating, he suggests, tacit Saudi approval.

Bradley goes further, describing the interview as “just the opening salvo of an orchestrated, pro-Israel propaganda campaign.”

This “campaign”, according to Bradley, has so far witnessed the publishing of an “unprecedented” column in government-monitored Saudi daily which suggested that “there was no reason for Arabs to ‘unjustifiably demonise’” Israel.

Elsewhere, The Wall Street Journal has also reported a secret Saudi-Israeli deal to support Syrian rebels, while The Times has suggested that the two nations are engaged in talks over potential economic ties, a claim denied by Riyadh. 

Any Saudi move towards naturalization with Israel remains speculation. The fake image of the Saudi plane in Israel was met with a swift refutation and threats of prosecution against those who shared it online. And, as responses to this hashtag revealed, the vast majority of Saudis on Twitter continue to see relations with Israel as unthinkable.

Nonetheless, as hardline anti-Iran figure Mohammed bin Salman - who was promoted to Crown Prince last week - draws closer to power, it is not inconceivable that going forward Saudi Arabia might take the line that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. Or, to be more specific, “Iran’s enemy Israel is Saudi Arabia’s friend.”

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