When King Abdul Aziz first met Franklin D Roosevelt to establish US-Saudi relations in 1945, says Karen Elliott House in The Wall Street Journal, he never showed anyone the memorandum of their discussions. He believed their friendship depended on “goodwill and good faith, not a scrap of paper”. It was only later that the translator revealed the king had advised FDR about the European survivors of the Nazi genocide: “Give them the choicest lands and homes of the Germans who oppressed them.” Instead, in 1948, FDR’s successor Harry Truman recognised the new Jewish state in Palestine. The Saudis never did the same, but under a new prospective agreement between Riyadh and Washington, “that would change”.
The deal would involve the US helping Saudi Arabia with trade, security and nuclear enrichment, in exchange for the Arab state setting up “overt peaceful relations” with Israel. The war in Gaza obviously complicates matters. But a sign that calm heads are prevailing in Riyadh came when Hamas falsely claimed Israel had bombed a hospital. Unlike much of the West, “Saudi Arabia remained quiet”. Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, has set clear parameters for his country’s response to the conflict: condemning the targeting of civilians, calling for the creation of a Palestinian state, and “ignoring Hamas to support the rival Palestinian Authority”. What’s clear above all is that Saudi Arabia, “having flirted with China and Russia”, recognises that the US is “its best – its only – security option”. And if Israel is part of the deal, so be it.