The United States stands to see impressive progress on a longstanding foreign-policy wish this month.
No, not curbing Iran’s nuclear program—though negotiations on a deal with Tehran remain on the front burner as a June 30 deadline approaches. But the American-helmed effort to reach a deal with Iran has so rattled the Middle East that it has had the effect of hastening rapprochement between Israel and Arab nations.
Israel and Saudi Arabia don’t have diplomatic relations and never have, but on Thursday, the two countries revealed at an event at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington that they’ve been covertly conducting diplomacy to discuss Iran over a series of five meetings since 2014. The reveal came from Anwar Eshki, a former Saudi general and ambassador to the U.S., and Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN. While both of them are currently think-tankers, Gold is set to become director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs this weekend, the top position below the foreign minister. Since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds that portfolio, Gold will effectively be running the office.
Both countries have been rattled by worries that a deal negotiated by the U.S., Iran, and several other countries to curb Iran’s nuclear program could give Iran too much leeway and pave the way for it to get nuclear weapons. They’re also worried about Iran’s growing strength as a regional power. In addition to backing Hezbollah, a constant antagonist of Israel, for years, Tehran has become involved on Saudi Arabia’s southern border in Yemen in recent months with its backing of the Houthi rebels who ousted Yemen’s president in January. Given Saudi military action against the Houthis, Yemen’s civil war has elements of a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.