What the Saudi Crown Prince Said about Israel, and What He Didn’t

April 9 2018

Last week, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman made headlines in an interview when he acknowledged that Israelis “have the right to their own land.” Jonathan Tobin cautions against exaggerating the significance of this statement:

While important, it should also be understood what the statement from the prince—popularly known as “MBS”—doesn’t mean. His comments shouldn’t be confused with a formal declaration of Saudi recognition of the Jewish state. . . . It’s also true that Saudi outreach to Israel is not entirely new. The Saudis put forth a proposal in 2002 that called for recognition of Israel and ending the conflict. But that so-called Arab peace initiative had its flaws. Initially, it linked peace to the “right of return” for descendants of Palestinian Arab refugees from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Since then, the Saudis have dropped that part and made the proposed plan more acceptable to Israel, and it remains a talking point for some on the Jewish left who insist that there is an offer on the table that Israel hasn’t embraced.

That isn’t true, as Israel has informally discussed the initiative with the Saudis for years. However, the explanation for the failure of the plan and the motivation for the crown prince’s latest Western charm offensive rests primarily in the failure of the Palestinians to take the hint with respect to Israel. . . .

The key event preceding the Saudi crown prince’s statement came earlier this year when, in the aftermath of the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Mahmoud Abbas journeyed to Riyadh. The message he reportedly got there was a Saudi demand that he accept what the United States was offering in terms of a two-state solution. The Saudis even offered serious financial support for him if he was willing to make peace and become part of an anti-Iran alliance. Abbas’s reply was that no Palestinian leader could accept such a deal. . . .

So when MBS spoke of a Jewish right to a “land,” he wasn’t so much speaking to Donald Trump or Benjamin Netanyahu, who realize that the Saudis look to Israel as an ally against an Iranian foe that they, as the prince stated, regard as worse than Hitler. Rather, it was a message to Abbas, Hamas, and the Palestinian people, emphasizing that if they are determined to persist in their century-old war on Zionism, then they can do it without any help from the Saudis.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel-Arab relations, Mahmoud Abbas, Mohammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia

Hizballah Is in Venezuela to Stay

Feb. 21 2019

In a recent interview, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the presence of Hizballah cells in Venezuela as further evidence of the growing unrest in that country. The Iran-backed group has operated in Venezuela for years, engaging in narcotics trafficking and money laundering to fund its activities in the Middle East, and likely using the country as a base for planning terrorist attacks. If Juan Guaido, now Venezuela’s internationally recognized leader, is able to gain control of the government, he will probably seek to alter this situation. But, writes Colin Clarke, his options may be limited.

A government led by Guaido would almost certainly be more active in opposing Hizballah’s presence on Venezuelan soil, not just nominally but in more aggressively seeking to curtail the group’s criminal network and, by extension, the influence of Iran. As part of a quid pro quo for its support, Washington would likely seek to lean on Guaido to crack down on Iran-linked activities throughout the region.

But there is a major difference between will and capability. . . . Hizballah is backed by a regime in Tehran that provides it with upward of $700 million annually, according to some estimates. Venezuela serves as Iran’s entry point into Latin America, a foothold the Iranians are unlikely to cede without putting up a fight. Moreover, Russia retains a vested interest in propping up [the incumbent] Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and keeping him in power, given the longstanding relationship between the two countries. . . . Further, after cooperating closely in Syria, Hizballah is now a known quantity to the Kremlin and an organization that President Vladimir Putin could view as an asset that, at the very least, will not interfere with Russia’s designs to extend its influence in the Western hemisphere.

If the Maduro regime is ultimately ousted from power, that will likely have a negative impact on Hizballah in Venezuela. . . . Yet, on balance, Hizballah has deep roots in Venezuela, and completely expelling the group—no matter how high a priority for the Trump administration—remains unlikely. The best-case scenario for Washington could be an ascendant Guaido administration that agrees to combat Hizballah’s influence—if the new government is willing to accept a U.S. presence in the country to begin training Venezuelan forces in the skills necessary to counter terrorism and transnational criminal networks with strong ties to Venezuelan society. But that scenario, of course, is dependent on the United States offering such assistance in the first place.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Mike Pompeo, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy, Venezuela