Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made it clear to a U.S. delegation last week that an Israeli ground invasion would be unwise and poses a threat to the stability of the entire region.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be moving closer to a full ground campaign after the 7 October Hamas attack in Israel. Regional powers like Turkey and Jordan have been vocal critics of any ground campaign and have suggested a wider war if Israeli troops get the green light.
There have been pockets of fighting, but no major incursion. Analysts believe Israeli forces could be massacred if they enter the Hamas stronghold.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a major U.S. war hawk who did everything he could to avoid the Vietnam draft and lied that he fought there during the war, was part of the delegation, and told The New York Times that the Saudi leadership was “hopeful that a ground operation could be avoided for reasons of stability as well as the loss of life.”
The paper noted that two Saudi officials hinted that the country’s de facto leader was more adamant in his remarks and has been warning that such a raid would be disastrous for the region.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday that it condemns “any ground military operation conducted by Israel in the Gaza Strip due to its threat to the lives of Palestinian civilians.”
The ministry called for an immediate ceasefire and the end of the Israeli blockade.
Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi foreign minister, said the country’s position calls for a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
“If we are not willing to overcome all of the difficulties, all of the challenges, all of the history that is involved in this issue, then we will never have a real peace and security in the region,” he said.
Anadolu Agency reported that the Saudi call came one day after Eli Cohen, Israel’s foreign minister, called a UN resolution calling for a humanitarian truce “despicable.”
TRENDPOST: A former senior U.S. government official told Foreign Policy last week that when it comes to foreign policy and crisis management the Saudis seem “useless” because they rely on the U.S. for security and were close to formalizing ties to Israel just before the Hamas attack.
While issuing calls for a ceasefire and urging both parties not to escalate, but for a country that sees itself as a true regional power, “amount to little more than background noise in the brewing regional conflict.”
“The crown prince clearly does not want to act in the Gaza conflict in a way that arouses the ire of the Iranians so that Tehran’s proxy in Yemen, the Houthis, starts targeting Saudi population centers again with drones and missiles,” Steven A. Cook, a columnist at Foreign Policy, wrote.
Kim Ghattas, a distinguished fellow at Columbia University’s Institute of Global Politics, wrote in The Financial Times last week that Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s political leader, purposely said Israel couldn’t protect them, and was a veiled threat to Saudi Arabia that it could be next.
She noted how the Saudi prince and Iranian president already held a phone call after the Hamas invasion.
“It is best to keep the Iranians close,” she wrote.
She wrote that if/when normalization talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia ever begin again, the Saudis “will have to extract substantial concessions from the Israelis, not so much out of support for the Palestinians but out of self-interest.”
While Saudi Arabia has been accused by critics of not taking a firm stance on the matter, U.S. President Joe Biden showed the Saudis how to respond decisively to a crisis without even considering how it will play on the international stage.
“Let there be no doubt. The U.S. has Israel’s back,” the president said.
The U.S. sees Iran as its major adversary in the region and has blamed Tehran for—if not directly playing a role in the Hamas attack—certainly contributed either financially or from a planning standpoint. Iran has denied any role but has warned Israel against carrying out major ground operations.
“The crimes of the Zionist regime have crossed the red lines, and this may force everyone to take action,” Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi posted on X Sunday. “Washington asks us to not do anything, but they keep giving widespread support to Israel.”
The Iranian president said in an interview with Al Jazeera a day earlier that the “United States knows very well our current capabilities and knows that they are impossible to overcome.”
Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the Iranian foreign minister, said at the UN that the U.S. will not be spared from fire if the genocide in Gaza continues.
He told CNN a day later that he does not want the war to spread. Politico noted that he said Israel is a “source of evil” and Iran does not recognize Israel’s existence.