Democrats 'concerned' over Saudi security requests in Israel normalisation deal

Security agreement between Washington and Riyadh would require congressional approval

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman receives US President Joe Biden in Jeddah last year. Saudi Royal Court / Reuters
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A group of Democratic US senators on Wednesday sent a letter to President Joe Biden endorsing efforts to establish relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, while saying they were "concerned" over some of Riyadh's security requests.

Chris Murphy, chairman of the foreign relations subcommittee on the Middle East, South Asia, Central Asia and counter-terrorism, was among the letter's 20 signatories, who are all members of Mr Biden's Democratic party.

Saudi Arabia is reported to be considering establishing ties with Israel as part of a US-brokered deal that would include a US defence pact and a civilian nuclear programme.

The senators urged caution from the administration over some of the security provisions the Saudi government has reportedly made.

“Peace between Israel and its neighbours has been a long-standing goal of US foreign policy, and we are maintaining an open mind about any agreement that would potentially deepen the political, cultural and economic ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel,” the letter reads.

“A high degree of proof would be required to show that a binding defence treaty with Saudi Arabia … aligns with US interests, especially if such a commitment requires the US to deploy substantial new permanent resources to the region.”

The stated concerns are significant because any agreed security pact would require approval from the Senate, where the Democrats hold a slim majority.

There is bipartisan concern in the chamber over Riyadh's human rights record, including enduring anger over the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident who was killed five years ago at the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Signatories also urged the White House to ensure that any agreement include “meaningful, clearly defined and enforceable provisions” to achieve a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and that there be “equal measures of dignity and security” for both peoples.

Last week, former US special envoy for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations Martin Indyk said Saudi Arabia would not hold back on establishing ties with Israel purely for the sake of making progress towards the creation of a Palestinian state.

The potential for normalisation appeared to grow this week, with Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi becoming the second minister to publicly visit Saudi Arabia on Monday.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently told Fox News that Riyadh was “getting closer” to establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.

The development would mark a major accomplishment for the Biden administration, which has given priority to the expansion of the Abraham Accords as a defining feature in its Middle East agenda.

Washington recently marked the third anniversary of the accords, which led to the UAE and Bahrain signing their first agreements with Israel. Morocco and Sudan followed suit.

Updated: October 05, 2023, 2:05 PM