Saudi Arabia has decided to pause US-supported plans to normalise relations with Israel, indicating a swift reassessment of its foreign policy priorities as the war between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas intensifies.
According to international media reports, the ongoing war has also compelled the kingdom to engage with Iran. As Riyadh seeks to prevent a broader escalation of violence across the region, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) received his first phone call from Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
Prior to Hamas’ attack on Israel, both Israeli and Saudi leaders were moving towards a deal that could have reshaped the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia has indicated it will not allow its pursuit of a US defence pact to be derailed if Israel doesn’t offer significant concessions to Palestinians in their bid for statehood. However, an approach that sidelines Palestinians could potentially anger Arabs.
Hamas fighters killed more than 1,300 Israelis in their October 7 attack and more than 2,000 Palestinians had been martyred by Saturday in Israel’s ongoing strikes on Gaza in response.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told a White House briefing this week that the normalisation effort was “not on hold” but said the focus was on other immediate challenges.
Washington pressed Riyadh to condemn the Hamas attack, but Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan pushed back.
The regional conflict has prompted the Saudi crown prince and Iran’s president to speak for the first time, following a Chinese-brokered initiative that re-established diplomatic ties in April.
A Saudi statement said the crown prince told Raisi “the kingdom is exerting maximum effort to engage with all international and regional parties to halt the ongoing escalation”, underling Riyadh’s move to contain the crisis.