Rapid progress was registered this week in negotiations for the creation of the first formal framework for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council’s relations with Israel. DEBKA Weekly reports this exclusively from US, Israeli and Gulf sources. The initiative is led by Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and his senior broker for a Middle East peace.
Although former British Prime Minister Tony Blair this week emphatically denied that he had offered his services to the US President, our sources note the denial’s ambiguous language: “Mr Blair has made no such pitch to be the president’s Middle East envoy. He continues to do so. He does so in a private capacity. He will continue to do it in that way.”
This locution indicates that Blair is lending his private connections as political adviser to several Gulf rulers to the task of promoting peaceful Arab world ties with the Jewish state finally after 69 years.
Until recently, the negotiators covered general modalities and developed levers for progress. But the last few days has seen a breakthrough: Jared and Blair steered the Gulf rulers and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu into consensus on the creation of a section within the GCC’s security department devoted to interaction with Israel.
This section will provide an active framework for the sharing of intelligence, anti-missile defense, cyber-warfare strategies and counter-terror forces in their common defense interests.
The GCC is composed of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Republic, Oman and Qatar. Progress on the Israeli track has generated awareness in other Arab capitals, including Cairo and Amman, of the benefits offered by widening the Gulf Council into a kind of Middle East NATO by the addition of Israel and more Arab members.
Although nothing is yet decided, a military personage from the Gulf has been tagged as director of relations with Israel. He is the GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif Bin Rashid Al Zayaniis, a retired Bahraini engineer and lieutenant general, who served as chief of public security in the Bahraini interior ministry from 2004 and adviser to the foreign minister from June 2010 until his GCC appointment in 2011.
Al Zayaniis was a lecturer at the Arabian Gulf University, mathematics and statistics professor at the University of Maryland in Bahrain and quantitative methods professor at the University of Bahrain.
The gathering momentum of this groundbreaking initiative has spun off discreet, unprecedented practical steps.
An American Jewish group visited Bahrain and was received by the king. He promised to upgrade relations with Israel to full diplomatic ties and build the first synagogue in his kingdom. Abu Dhabi and Dubai have given Israeli industrial entrepreneurs permission to start production, provided their products are not marked “Made in Israel.” Qatar has expanded its mission in Israel, without however giving it a formal presence. Saudi business, military and intelligence figures are becoming frequent visitors to Tel Aviv. On Feb. 21-22, Khalid Bin Ali al Humaidan, Director of Saudi General Intelligence agency, paid surprise visits to Ramallah and Jerusalem, as debkafile first revealed.