ANALYSIS: Saudi Arabia and the Supposed Detente With Israel

Warming relations with the Saudis is a major breakthrough for Israel, but Jerusalem needs to consider the ramifications

By Yochanan Visser | | Topics: Saudi Arabia
Photo: Creative Commons

Late December 2019 Israel Today published an exclusive story about Saudi journalist Abdul Hameed al-Ghobein who sent an email to the press informing journalists his Saudi citizenship had been revoked, but not by the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS) and his ailing father King Salman, who was hospitalized on Monday.

At the time Israel Todayconducted two interviews with al-Ghobein during which he said he had never been to Israel but admired the Jewish state, while at the same time paying respect to King Salman and MBS, who he called a great reformer.

The Saudi journalist also declared his loyalty to the House of Saud, the royal family, and said he would be ready to give up his life for his country and its leadership.

He later informed our team that his files and those of his direct family were again uploaded to the website of the Saudi Interior Ministry and that this meant that the decision to strip him of his citizenship and that of his wife and children had been revoked due to the media coverage of his case.

Last week, al-Ghobein again approached Israel Todaywhen he sent a WhatsApp message wishing us a good evening and containing a Twitter link that said articles he had written on Israel had been deleted from his website.

Two days later, the Saudi journalist again took to Twitter reporting he could be “bumped off” and that there were attempts to kidnap him.

This was the last time al-Ghobein published something on social media and his message to Israel Today was apparently a last-ditch effort to inform the media something really bad was going to happen to him.

On Sunday, Dr. Edy Cohen of the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) reported al-Ghobein had been arrested and jailed for expressing pro-Israel views in the articles he published.

Cohen wrote that in Saudi Arabia nobody can express himself freely because “Big Brother” is watching the citizens and listens to every word they are saying.

“Ghabein did not oppose the Saudi regime, but his media appearances made decision-makers in Riyadh uncomfortable-mainly because of the ire they raised among the Palestinian leadership, who complained bitterly about him,” according to the BESA researcher.

Cohen added that “Ghabein had been in the authorities’ sights for quite some time. They feared his sway over his readers and listeners, especially as he is considered one of the most influential Saudi journalists of recent years.”

“Ghabein was arrested and incarcerated on trumped-up charges of committing espionage on behalf of a foreign country and falsifying documents to obtain Saudi citizenship,” Cohen added claiming that the Saudi journalist could receive a sentence of at least ten years in prison because of these charges.

The BESA researcher wrote that he was sure this “foreign country” is Israel since al-Ghobein had continued to write articles critical of the Palestinian Authority and Jordanian King Abdullah II but favorable of Israel and its leader Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

The Saudi journalist is proposing the so-called “Jordan is Palestine” solution to the century-long Palestinian Israeli conflict and supports US President Donald J. Trump’s vision on peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, including introducing Israeli sovereignty over parts of Samaria and Judea as well as the whole Jordan Valley.

Before al-Ghobein was arrested the Saudi authorities started a smear campaign against the journalist, accusing him of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a supporter of former Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi, who is a prominent member of the Islamist organization.

The fact that al-Ghobein wrote that he could be “bumped off” was apparently a hint to the case of the late Washington Postcolumnist Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey by a team sent by MBS in 2018.

MBS later denied he had anything to do with Khashoggi’s murder but nobody, including the US State Department, believed him.

The Saudi Crown Prince is the de-facto ruler of the oil-rich Kingdom and despite the fact that he has introduced some sweeping reforms under his all-encompassing plan for a more modern and more moderate Saudi Arabia, Vision 2030, he and his regime are behaving like a typical Middle Eastern dictatorship.

The German news organization Deutsche Welle just published a documentary about real life in Saudi Arabia under the rule of Mohammad Bin Salman showing that the reforms have not created a more liberal climate in the country.

Saudi-born British fashion designer Basma Khalifa decided to go to her family in Saudi Arabia to check-out if she could live there after she came to the conclusion she didn’t feel attached to life in Great Britain.

Just as al-Ghobein, Khalifa found out that despite the largely cosmetic and economic reforms introduced by MBS, life in Saudi Arabia remains under strict government control and there’s no freedom of speech or a visible trend of opening up one of the most conservative and oppressive countries in the world.

As soon as Khalifa started to talk about a Saudi women’s rights activist and mentioned Khashoggi she received a telephone call from the authorities and was ordered out of the country.


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