Europäische Institut für Menschenrechte - Prof. Dr. Dr. Ümit Yazıcıoğlu -
      Europäische Institut für Menschenrechte - Prof. Dr. Dr. Ümit Yazıcıoğlu -

Saudi Arabia-Israel Relations: Challenging Paths and Foreign Policy Struggles

Saudi Arabia-Israel Relations: Challenging Paths and Foreign Policy Struggles

Prof. Dr. Dr. Ümit Yazıcıoğlu


1.) Introduction

The Middle East region has long been the center of political tensions, conflicts, and historical disputes. Every development in this region has been at the center of international relations and has shaped the political strategies of various actors. Recent developments regarding the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel hold significant importance in this complex political landscape of the Middle East.


The statements made by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a Fox News interview on September 20th have had a major impact on the political dynamics of the region. These statements expressed Saudi Arabia's intention to normalize its relations with Israel, emphasizing the goal of enhancing regional stability and cooperation. However, subsequent events indicate that Saudi Arabia's journey towards normalization with Israel is fraught with challenges.


Hamas's attacks on Israel have dealt a serious blow to the plans for Saudi-Israel normalization and have clearly highlighted the difficulties in this process. The Israel-Palestine conflict has exacerbated the instability in the region and led Saudi Arabia to reconsider its steps in this direction. This article will address Saudi Arabia's efforts to normalize its relations with Israel and the role of the United States as a mediator in this process. Furthermore, considering Saudi Arabia's foreign policy struggles and regional influence, the complexity and implications of this process will be examined. In this context, the aim of the article is to understand these developments from a Political Science perspective.


2.) Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Relations with Israel: Strategic Evolution and Regional Dynamics

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's statements regarding the normalization of relations with Israel have been seen as a positive development following years of tension. However, recent attacks by Hamas on Israel have cast a shadow over this positive atmosphere. In this section of my writing, we will examine recent developments regarding Saudi Arabia's normalization plans with Israel and assess in more detail the impact of these developments on Saudi-American relations.


Mohammed bin Salman's statements have emphasized Saudi Arabia's intention to improve its relations with Israel, which is considered an important step in terms of regional stability and cooperation. However, recent attacks by Hamas on Israel have led Saudi Arabia to reconsider these normalization plans and question the future of this agreement.


The process of normalizing Saudi Arabia's relations with Israel also affects Saudi-American relations. The United States has taken on the role of mediation to support this process successfully. Particularly for the Joe Biden administration, foreign policy achievements hold great importance, and as a result, Washington has intensified efforts to negotiate the terms of the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel.


These negotiations encompass defense agreements, the supply of modern weaponry, and peaceful nuclear programs. The construction of a nuclear power plant is especially critical. In the past, Israel took action to prevent the potential production of nuclear weapons in the region by striking a nuclear reactor in Iraq. However, now Israel has agreed to build a nuclear power plant in the United Arab Emirates under American assurance. Attention has now turned to Saudi Arabia's decision on this matter, which holds significant importance in terms of whether a nuclear power plant will be allowed to be built in a country assuming a regional leadership role.


In conclusion, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's statements on the normalization of relations with Israel have been greeted as a hopeful development for regional stability and cooperation. However, attacks by Hamas on Israel have cast uncertainty on this process. The steps Saudi Arabia takes in this regard will have significant implications for Saudi-American relations and regional balances. Negotiations like the construction of a nuclear power plant are also important, and therefore, future developments should be closely monitored."


3.) Diplomatic Relations of Saudi Arabia with Israel in the Context of Nuclear Energy Diplomacy

In recent times, Saudi Arabia's establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel and its nuclear energy development projects have taken on significant dimensions covering a wide strategic and political spectrum. Saudi Arabia's demands in its relations with Israel encompass sensitive issues such as Israeli settlements in the West Bank and aim to expand the control of the Palestinian National Authority over the territories. Furthermore, the attacks by Hamas on Israel on October 7, 2023, should also be considered as a significant development in this context. This incident has escalated tensions in the region and made reconciliation between the parties more difficult.


In this framework, the approach of the United States towards how Saudi Arabia maintains its relations with Israel and contributes to these relationships should take into account events such as the attacks on October 7, 2023.


On the other hand, the U.S. stance on Saudi Arabia's nuclear energy development projects is also a significant issue. Saudi Arabia's plans for the construction of nuclear power plants offer significant business opportunities for American energy companies. Under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, nuclear energy development in Saudi Arabia has gained momentum due to the necessity of more efficient use of local energy resources due to high oil prices and the goal of reducing dependence on oil. Saudi Arabia produces electricity by consuming approximately 0.4-0.5 million barrels of oil daily; therefore, the construction of nuclear power plants can make significant contributions to reducing local oil consumption. Additionally, these plants account for 35-40% of the country's total electricity production. Therefore, the construction of nuclear power plants is considered a significant component of Saudi Arabia's energy strategy and is seen as a rational step to complete the country's efforts to diversify its energy sources.


4.) Saudi Arabia's Nuclear Energy Projects and International Collaborations

In order to achieve strategic goals such as energy production and desalination, Saudi Arabia made a significant commitment to the construction of both large and small nuclear reactors with the National Atomic Energy Project, which was adopted in 2017. This project is important for Saudi Arabia in many ways, as it aims to reduce the country's dependence on energy resources and ensure sustainable access to water resources.


To successfully implement the Nuclear Regulation and Management Project, Saudi Arabia established the Nuclear and Radiological Regulation Commission in 2018 and the Saudi Nuclear Energy Holding Company, a national nuclear company, in 2022. This has been a significant step in regulating and overseeing the nuclear energy program.


The Nuclear Plant Tender, which began at the end of 2022 for the construction of the first two nuclear power plants with a capacity of 1.4 GW, is a tangible indication of Saudi Arabia's commitment to nuclear energy. Although the participating companies have not been officially announced, there is a strong belief that international actors such as Westinghouse from the United States, Rosatom from Russia, KEPCO from South Korea, and the National Nuclear Corporation from China have participated in this tender.


International Collaboration, in particular, Russia's Rosatom company, has shown a significant focus on Saudi Arabia's nuclear energy projects. Rosatom has extensive experience in uranium mining, nuclear fuel production, nuclear power plant construction and maintenance, disposal of used nuclear fuel, and the training of nuclear experts. Additionally, Rosatom is currently building the Ed-Dabaa nuclear power plant in Egypt and has experience working under challenging conditions in the Middle East.


Saudi Arabia's nuclear energy projects are a fundamental part of international collaboration. The Cooperation Agreement in the Field of Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy signed with Russia in 2015 provides a fundamental framework for this collaboration. Rosatom and the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy have prepared a roadmap for cooperation on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Finally, the Riyadh office of Russian company Rusatom Overseas, a subsidiary of Rosatom, became operational in 2019 with the aim of promoting the company's projects in international markets and creating more collaboration opportunities with Saudi Arabia.


In conclusion, Saudi Arabia's nuclear energy projects represent significant steps towards achieving important goals such as energy production and desalination. These projects can contribute to building a sustainable energy future by meeting the country's energy needs.


5.) Competition in the Nuclear Energy Arena in the Middle East: Relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia

Competition in the field of nuclear energy in the Middle East presents a complex issue with a significant impact on power balances throughout the region. This study aims to analyze the competition among international actors during the development of Saudi Arabia's nuclear energy program.


In June, when negotiations between Saudi Arabia and the United States reached an impasse, the Saudi leadership expressed its intention to turn to alternative cooperation partners like China or Russia to encourage American negotiators to be more flexible. This political maneuver has led to a notable strengthening of Saudi-Chinese relations. In this context, Saudi Arabia's national oil company, Aramco, enhancing its cooperation with Chinese partners and acquiring shares in the energy sector has solidified the change in Saudi Arabia's energy strategy.


However, American nuclear experts argue against Saudi Arabia's preference for partners like Russia and China in the execution of its nuclear energy program. They view Saudi Arabia's real competitors as organizations like the Korean KEPCO, especially known for its successful Barakah nuclear power plant project in the United Arab Emirates. KEPCO's experience and success in the region provide a significant advantage for Saudi Arabia, which aims to carry out nuclear energy projects in the Middle East.


In this competitive context, it is worth noting the lawsuit filed by Westinghouse against KEPCO in October 2022, particularly. The lawsuit alleged that although Korea had changed the nuclear reactor design, it still relied on American technology. An American court rejected Westinghouse's claim, and the case was concluded in mid-September. This competition marks a significant milestone in terms of international relations and energy strategies.


6.) Conclusion

In conclusion, Westinghouse's potential major deal with Saudi Arabia is contingent on the future of relations and defense agreements between the United States and Saudi Arabia. However, the escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli tension could weaken the likelihood of such a deal in the near future. A third determinant is whether Westinghouse will be chosen for nuclear energy projects, which depends on Saudi Arabia's defense agreements and arms procurement requests.


In this context, on the international stage, companies like China, Russia, and South Korean KEPCO are playing an increasingly significant role in Saudi Arabia's journey in the field of nuclear energy. Saudi Arabia greatly needs international cooperation to successfully realize this crucial transformation in the fields of energy and desalination. This support can align with Saudi Arabia's vision of building a sustainable energy future by meeting its energy needs. However, how relations and defense agreements with the United States will shape up during this process is a critical factor that will determine the outcome of this significant project.


October 11, 2023, Luxembourg


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