WASHINGTON — Saudi Arabia is reportedly pausing normalization talks with Israel and the United States, a major diplomatic blow in the wake of Hamas’ invasion of Israel on Sautrday.
Bloomberg and Reuters on Friday quoted unnamed sources as saying that the Saudis were not ending the talks, but instead were freezing them until the violence abated. Israel has declared war in the wake of Hamas’ invasion, which killed and wounded thousands of civilians, and is widely expected to begin a ground invasion of Gaza soon.
Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also spoke with Iran’s president this week, signaling a retreat from the Biden administration’s efforts to isolate Iran, which backs Hamas.
Hamas invaded Israel from the Gaza Strip on Saturday, killing at least 1,300 people, many of them civilians, wounding thousands and abducting more than a hundred. Israel’s war has the stated ambition of “ending Hamas.”
Hezbollah, the militant group based in Lebanon that is a proxy for Iran, praised Hamas’ attack and said it should be seen as a message to Arab countries about the dangers of sidestepping the Palestinian cause while establishing ties with Israel. Four countries in the region have established relations with Israel in the last three years.
The Biden administration was deeply invested in the Saudi Arabia-Israel talks, seeing an agreement between the countries as a breakthrough for Israel’s regional acceptance, a blow to Iran’s regional ambitions and a diplomatic coup heading into a presidential election year. Part of the proposal was a U.S.-Saudi defense pact, something the Saudis have longed for for years.
Bin Salman’s lengthy chat with Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi was aimed at showing that “the kingdom is exerting maximum effort to engage with all international and regional parties to halt the ongoing escalation,” Reuters quoted a Saudi statement as saying. Taking the call from Raisi signals Saudi recognition of a legitimate Iranian stake in the Israel-Hamas war, which Israel vehemently rejects.
John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman, would not confirm the talks’ suspension in a phone call he had with members of the press, but he said the United States could do little to move peace forward without the committed involvement of the parties.
“We have every intention of staying at the task of trying to pursue an Israel that is more integrated into the region, a more cooperative region, and we still believe in the promise of normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and we have no intention of not continuing to pursue that,” Kirby said.
“But obviously, these are sovereign nations, they get to decide for themselves at what pace they’re willing to move, under what conditions and certainly the degree to which they want to continue that effort,” he added. “If they continue the effort, if that’s where they, too, want to go, they will find no better friend than the United States in pursuit of that.”