Covert Saudi Outreach to Israel Sputters after Journalist's Murder

(Wall Street Journal) Felicia Schwartz, Margherita Stancati and Summer Said - A secretive U.S.-backed initiative to forge closer ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel faces setbacks after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who spearheaded the effort, was implicated, along with two of his aides, in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The international uproar that followed the murder and the fallout within the royal court also curbed the prince's room to maneuver and dampened appetite for risky foreign policy endeavors such as outreach to Israel, say people familiar with the situation. "Things have definitely cooled off right after Khashoggi's murder," said a senior Saudi government official. The two aides, former royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani and former deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri, played important roles in the clandestine outreach to Israel. Qahtani, as media adviser, issued directives to the Saudi press to help soften Israel's image in the kingdom. Maj.-Gen. Assiri secretly traveled to Israel on several occasions. On Israel's side, Mossad Director Yossi Cohen met Saudi officials several times over the past year. Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates now regularly share intelligence on shared threats, mostly on transit through the Red Sea but also on other matters related to Iran. "The level of direct security, military and intelligence cooperation between Israel and the Gulf states, with America as a partner, is light-years ahead of what it was," said Robert Wexler, a former Democratic congressman and president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.

2018-12-19 00:00:00

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