Israel’s prime minister expressed hope Sunday that his country will establish formal diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia, days before President Joe Biden visits the two countries as part of a regional trip.
Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have official diplomatic relations, but have shared clandestine security ties over a mutual enmity of regional arch-rival Iran. The kingdom is widely believed to be among a handful of Arab states weighing open ties with Israel.
“Israel extends its hand to all the countries of the region and calls on them to build ties with us, establish relations with us, and change history for our children,” Prime Minister Yair Lapid said during a weekly Cabinet meeting. He said Biden will carry “a message of peace and hope from us” when he embarks for Saudi Arabia.
Israel’s ties with Arab states have grown since normalizing relations with four Arab states in 2020 as part of the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords. Defense cooperation has tightened since the Pentagon switched coordination with Israel from U.S. European Command to Central Command, or CENTCOM, last year. The move lumped Israel’s military with those of former enemy states, including Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations that have yet to recognize Israel.
Biden is set to arrive in Israel Wednesday for three-day trip that will also include meetings with Palestinian officials in the occupied West Bank. From there, he will fly directly to Saudi Arabia.
In an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Sunday, Biden said he’s aiming to bring the two countries closer together.
“I will also be the first president to fly from Israel to Jiddah, Saudi Arabia,” Biden wrote. “That travel will also be a small symbol of the budding relations and steps toward normalization between Israel and the Arab world, which my administration is working to deepen and expand.”
Formal ties with Saudi Arabia would be a major diplomatic coup for Israel. The kingdom has been publicly reticent about acknowledging cooperation with Israel. Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has been a longtime supporter of the Palestinians and their desire to establish an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. Israel captured all three areas in 1967, though it withdrew its forces and settlers from Gaza in 2005.
The kingdom has long conditioned the establishment of full diplomatic ties with Israel upon a two-state solution to the decades-long conflict with the Palestinians. Israel and the Palestinians have not held substantive negotiations in more than a decade.
But recent years have seen signs of a shifting attitude. Saudi Arabia has allowed flights between Israel and Gulf states to cross through its airspace. In 2020, then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly flew to Saudi Arabia for a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and last week several Israeli defense reporters visited the kingdom and published news reports about their welcome.