The Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman made a few headlines this week when, in an interview with the Atlantic, he seemed to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the Middle East. While it is no secret that Riyadh and Jerusalem have been engaging in ever-closer cooperation due to their shared concerns about the threat from Iran, MBS (as the Saudi leader is known) has not moved toward bringing these relations out into the open. Lee Smith argues that it’s high time Saudi Arabia began initiating diplomatic relations with Israel, and not only because of dovetailing geopolitical priorities:
[T]he main reason to normalize relations with the Jewish state is not strategic—rather, it’s sociological. . . . [C]riticism of anti-Semitism typically focuses on the damage that it does to Jews, but that’s only one part of the equation. The other concern is what it does to those who are afflicted by anti-Semitism, non-Jews, by turning them into stark raving lunatics who are incapable of understanding the world and thus acting in it rationally. If you believe that 1 percent of the world’s population controls global wealth, communications, and even the weather, it becomes increasingly difficult to function. When an entire society adopts this as a worldview, it’s over. “The Jews control the weather” is not a starting point from which anyone makes progress.
Consider Syria, for instance, whose rulers thought it advisable to bind competing sects and tribes together in an oppositional nationalism based on perpetual war against the Jewish state. It was nearly inevitable that at some point Syrians would turn to slaughtering each other. Iran’s anti-Semitism is dangerous for Israel, but let’s be frank—Jerusalem has a large nuclear arsenal and can take care of itself even if its superpower patron in Washington blinks. The anti-Semitism that is the signature of the Iranian leadership’s madness is much more dangerous to Iran itself—a peril further magnified by the regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Thus, the Iranian threat isn’t just military but also cultural. That’s why MBS is in a rush to undo the post-1979 regional order, represented now by the obscurantist regime in Tehran that courts war not simply with Israel but with all of its neighbors, from the Persian Gulf to the eastern Mediterranean. To keep Saudi Arabia moving headlong in the other direction, namely the future, the logical move for a man who keeps shocking the system is to embrace Israel. By establishing normal relations with the Jewish state, MBS would be enshrining his vision for a normal Saudi Arabia.