Category: Sacred Land of Hijaz


By Alaa Shahine

November 29, 2017

Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, one of the most senior Saudi royals detained in the kingdom’s corruption crackdown, has been released after reaching a settlement deal believed to exceed the equivalent of $1 billion, an official involved in the anti-graft campaign said.

Prince Miteb, who headed the powerful National Guard until earlier this month, was released Tuesday, the official said on condition of anonymity in discussing matters under the supervision of the public prosecutor. At least three other suspects have also finalized settlement deals, the official said. It wasn’t immediately possible to reach Prince Miteb, son of the late King Abdullah, for comment.

The public prosecutor has decided to release several individuals and will proceed with the prosecution of at least five others, the official said. The prosecutor has complete authority over the investigation, including whether to accept or reject any settlement proposal and whether to take any suspect to court, the official said.

Prince Miteb’s release, less than a month since his arrest, shows the speed at which Saudi Arabia wants to settle the corruption probe that involved the sudden arrests of royals and billionaires such as Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. The crackdown has shaken the kingdom and reverberated across the world as analysts, bankers and diplomats assess its impact on power in the world’s biggest oil exporter.

$100 Billion Settlement

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s predominant leader known as MBS, said the majority of those being detained had agreed to pay back some of the money they had gained illegally in exchange for their freedom. The prince said authorities could recover as much as $100 billion in settlements.

Some suspects started making payments to settle cases in exchange for freedom, people with knowledge of the matter said last week. Businessmen and officials signed agreements with authorities to transfer a portion of their assets to avoid trial and have started to transfer funds from personal accounts to government-controlled accounts, the people said, asking not to be identified because the discussions are private.

“Most princes arrested will certainly try to buy their way out, and we will see more of them doing just that to avoid jail time,” said Raihan Ismail, an associate lecturer at the Centre for Arab & Islamic Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra. “This process lacks accountability and integrity. I doubt that detailed charges will ever be released, especially if settlements are reached.”

Five-Star Prison

The crackdown has turned the palatial Ritz Carlton in Riyadh, which hosted U.S. President Donald Trump in May, into a five-star detention center for about 200 of Saudi Arabia’s richest and most influential people.

The country’s Attorney General Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb said suspects had been granted legal access. His office, however, has yet to release details of the charges or allow access to the suspects and their lawyers, making it difficult to independently asses the cases.

King Salman fired Prince Miteb shortly before midnight Nov. 4 and announced the formation of an anti-corruption commission headed by the crown prince. Prince Miteb’s arrest fueled speculation that the crackdown was more about tightening the crown prince’s grip on power, a claim he dismissed as “ludicrous” in an interview with the New York Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman this month.

The opacity of the system doesn’t take away “from the political capital that MBS probably earned from this from the Saudi public” by declaring war on corruption, Hani Sabra, founder of New York-based Alef Advisory wrote in a report. “We continue to believe that MBS’s risky domestic gambits are likely to succeed.”

— With assistance by David Tweed

Source: Bloomberg.

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-28/saudi-prince-released-after-1-billion-settlement-official-says.

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Tuesday, 28 November, 2017

Saudi-based Acwa Power has announced the launch of the $1-billion Kirikkale Combined Cycle Power Plant in Turkey which has a 1,000 MW capacity, enough to meet three percent of the country’s total electricity demand.

The project was officially launched at a major ceremony held at the Presidential Complex in the presence of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Berat Albayrak, the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources besides other senior officials.

It is located in the municipality of Kiliclar in the Yahsihan District, 15km from Kirikkale City Center and 50km east of Ankara.

“The inauguration of this project is a clear sign of the growth and modernization in Turkey, which is making the country set for continued development,” Acwa Power Chairman Mohammad Abunayyan said.

The plant is the first and largest of Saudi energy investments in Turkey’s power sector. Abunayyan said that it stressed Acwa Power’s role in boosting Saudi foreign investment base in the economic, strategic and investment sectors, in line with requirements of Saudi Vision 2030 and its objectives.

“We applaud the Turkish authorities on delivering a key infrastructure project to drive the economy forward for future generations,” he added.

For his part, Managing Director at ACWA Power Thamer al-Sharhan said that achieving this significant milestone has only been possible through the support extended by various institutes, including Energy Ministry, Regulator (EPDK), TEIAS, Kirikkale Governor and Municipality.

“This project is an ideal example of the power of public-private partnerships in fulfilling national ambitions,” Sharhan said.

Notably, the Kırıkkale Power Plant will provide a steady and reliable energy to Turkey’s national grid.

The project is also among the top three most efficient combined cycle gas power plants in Turkey, significantly contributing to the country’s economy through savings in gas consumption.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.

Link: https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1097416/saudi-arabia%E2%80%99s-acwa-power-inaugurates-1bn-power-plant-turkey.

Monday, 27 November, 2017

Defense ministers from the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) approved during their first meeting held Sunday in Riyadh, a strategy from several items to fight terrorism as they emphasized on the importance of joint efforts, organized collective actions, and comprehensive strategic planning to deal with the threat of terrorism, and put an end to those who seek to fuel conflicts and sectarianism, and spread chaos, strife and unrest within their countries.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman opened the inaugural meeting of the IMCTC on Sunday and said that the biggest threat from terrorism and extremism is tarnishing the reputation of Islamic religion and distorting the Muslim belief, also pledging to track down terrorism and see its defeats in many countries of the world, especially in Islamic countries, until it disappears completely from the surface of the earth.

“Our meeting today is very important as in the past years, terrorism has been operating in all our countries and most of these organizations operate in several countries without a strong, good and distinguished coordination among Islamic countries. Today, this matter is finished in the presence of this coalition. Today, more than 40 Islamic countries are sending a very strong signal that they will work together and coordinate very strongly to support each other’s efforts, whether in military efforts, or financial, intelligence, and political aspects,” the Crown Prince said.

The Muslim top defense officials agreed on Sunday to fight terrorism in the ideology domain, by planning to expose extremist misuse of legitimate texts and events through delusion, allegation, false methods and deceit.

The ministers also expressed their determination to address terrorism through education and knowledge and to fight terrorist ideologies in the financing domain.

“The Ministers agreed on the importance of the role of the IMCTC Counter Terrorism Center in coordinating and integrating military efforts, the exchange of information and intelligence, and conducting training courses and joint exercises,” a statement issued by the ministers said.

The Council also agreed on the importance of the military role in combating the threat of terrorism, enhancing security and peace in the Coalition member countries and contributing to regional and international security and peace.

Gen. Raheel Sharif, military commander of the IMCTC, said: “The greatest challenge to peace and stability in the 21st century, especially in the Islamic world, is to address the most serious phenomenon in the world: Terrorism.”

For his part, Secretary-General of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition Lieutenant General Abdulelah bin Othman Al-Saleh uncovered that the defense ministers exchanged information and initiatives to be submitted in the coming period, indicating that there are institutional initiatives, plans and strategies that will dry up the sources of terrorism and its funding by information, military and media.

Source: Asharq al-Awsat.

Link: https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1096136/islamic-coalition-approves-strategy-fight-terrorism-sectarianism.

David Hearst

Thursday 16 November 2017

Saudi Arabia is bypassing Jordan in its headlong rush to normalize relations with Israel, offering concessions on Palestinian refugees which could endanger the stability of the Hashemite kingdom, and compromise its status as the custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem, a senior official close to the royal court in Amman has told Middle East Eye.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, accused Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of treating Jordan with contempt. “He deals with Jordanians and the Palestinian Authority as if they are the servants and he is the master and we have to follow what he does. He neither consults nor listens to us,” the official said.

The alarm bells went off in Amman following semi-official leaks suggesting that Saudi Arabia was ready to surrender the Palestinian right of return in exchange for putting Jerusalem under international sovereignty as part of a Middle East peace deal that would facilitate the creation of a Saudi-Israeli alliance to confront Iran.

Such a deal would compromise the special status of Jordan as the custodian of the Haram al-Sharif, as stated in the peace treaty Jordan struck with Israel in 1994.

“Half the population of Jordan are Palestinians and if there is official talk in Riyadh about ending the right of return, this will cause turmoil within the kingdom. These are sensitive issues both for Jordanians from the East Bank and Palestinians,” the official said.

Jordanian backlash

In fact, 65 percent of the population of Jordan are Palestinian, mostly from the occupied West Bank. They have Jordanian citizenship and access to medical care, but they are under-represented in parliament, and have little presence in the Jordanian army and security services.

Furthermore, any attempt to give the Palestinians more rights in Jordan would provoke a backlash among the Jordanian population, the official observed.

He said any final status deal involving Palestinian refugees would have to include a compensation package to Jordan, which the kingdom would expect to receive as a state.

On the deal itself, the Jordanian official said that what was on offer to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, was worse than before.

“He (MbS) is concerned about the normalization of the Saudi relationship with Israel and he does not care about anything else. He needs a fig leaf to start off this normalization,” the official said.

A separate Western source in contact with some Saudi princes independently confirmed the importance of Israel as a factor behind a wave of recent arrests in Riyadh targeting princes, business tycoons and other influential Saudis.

He said several of the people arrested under the guise of an anti-corruption campaign had acted as “gatekeepers for Saudi funding” going to Israel. He suggested that MbS wanted to keep a monopoly of these contacts for himself. For this reason, he questioned whether those arrested would be put on public trial, or whether there would be secret trials.

This source dismissed the notion that what was a taking place in Saudi was a genuine anti-corruption drive: “The Saudi family do not rule Saudi Arabia. They own it. That is their view. They created the country. They own it, and therefore they cannot be corrupt.”

The Royal Court in Amman is also concerned by the pressure being applied on Jordan to join an anti-Iran campaign and the potentially dire consequences of what it considers “reckless” Saudi policies.

“Things in Syria are going to the benefit of Iran and its allies. The Jordanian approach was to try to open channels with Iran and Russia and to calm down the Iranians and have some sort of agreement in the south,” MEE’s source said.

“But the Saudis are in full confrontation mode, destabilizing Lebanon. If Iran wants to retaliate, it could retaliate across the whole region, which could affect Jordan directly and that is the last thing Jordan would want them to do.”

When pressed by the Saudis, Jordan scaled back its diplomatic relations with Qatar, but notably did not cut them as Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt did on the day the blockade was announced. Jordan did, however, close the office of Al Jazeera, the Qatari television network which Saudi has called on Doha to shut down.

Unlike the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah has not been invited to go to Riyadh to express these frustrations in person. He has visited Bahrain, but went home shortly after.

Broken promises

The third source of Jordanian concern about the way Saudi is behaving is economic.

Jordan has lost money as a result of the regional boycott of Qatar, and is currently losing income it earned through the transit of goods. This is a result of the re-opening of a crossing between Saudi and Iraq at Arar, a crossing that had been closed for 27 years since Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Before Arar opened, all trade from Iraq passed through Jordan. With the opening of Arar, Iraq will start to use Saudi ports in the Red Sea to export to Europe, instead of the Jordanian port of Aqaba.

There is anger in the royal palace about promises of aid from Saudi Arabia, but no signs of the cash arriving in its bank accounts.

A separate Jordanian source told MEE: “The Jordanian king and the Jordanian authority are angry about promises made by the Saudis  to compensate Jordan for its loss of income with Qatar, and the fact that nothing has been received from them so far.”

A fourth Jordanian grievance is MbS’s recent announcement of plans to build the high-tech mega city of Neom which is set to stretch across the kingdom’s borders into Jordan and Egypt. The official said that Jordan was “not well briefed” about the project, fostering the suspicion that the primary beneficiary in the city’s construction will not be Jordan or Egypt, but Israel which has established a regional lead in high-tech exports.

He said there were “some positive comments” on the Jordanian side, but overall it reacted cautiously to the announcement.

The official doubted whether Israel would be stampeded into a war with Hezbollah and suggested that MbS had miscalculated the reaction to his offensive on Lebanon, following the Lebanese Prime Minister’s Saad Hariri’s sudden resignation in Riyadh earlier this month.

Hariri, who is a Saudi citizen with significant business interests in the country, has not yet returned to Beirut and Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Wednesday that he believed he was being detained there.

“The analysis of Jordan is that neither Israel nor the US will go for a war, and that we Jordanians will be saddled with the consequences of a direct confrontation with Iran and we will pay the consequences for this,” the official said.

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/exclusive-jordan-braces-turmoil-saudis-rush-embrace-israel-1491957420.

November 15, 2017

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A senior executive at U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin said Tuesday the company is delivering its Patriot missiles to Saudi Arabia and that the kingdom is on track to become the second international customer, after the United Arab Emirates, to acquire its THAAD system.

Saudi Arabia is aggressively building up military capabilities as tensions spike with its regional rival Iran. The kingdom intercepted a missile fired by Yemen’s Shiite rebels at Riyadh earlier this month, the deepest strike inside the kingdom since its forces went to war in Yemen in 2015.

Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for supplying the rebels with the missile, and a senior U.S. military official appeared to back Saudi claims that the missile was manufactured by Iran. Tehran denies providing material support to the rebels in Yemen, who say the missile was locally developed.

The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday advised U.S. citizens of what it said was “the continuing threat posed by ballistic missiles fired by rebels in Yemen at Saudi Arabia.” Reports suggested the kingdom may have used the Raytheon MIM-104 Patriot system to shoot the missile down. The Patriot surface-to-air anti-missile system is produced by Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Massachusetts, and Lockheed Martin produces variants of the missile it shoots. The system was first used during the 1991 Gulf War in Saudi Arabia.

President Donald Trump has credited U.S. defense systems for Saudi Arabia’s recent interception. “A shot was just taken by Iran, in my opinion, at Saudi Arabia. And our system knocked it down,” Trump wrote on Twitter after the Nov. 4 attack. “That’s how good we are. Nobody makes what we make and now we’re selling it all over the world.”

Lockheed Martin’s Vice President of Integrated Air and Missile Defense, Tim Cahill, told reporters at the Dubai Air Show on Tuesday that market prospects for U.S.-made missile defense systems are “very, very good.”

“You might imagine if the threats are getting more sophisticated and our systems tend to be on the more sophisticated, more capable end, that that’s probably good for business,” he said. “We are fielding, I think, more requests than any of us have ever seen before worldwide. Many countries are interested in what our products can do,” Cahill added.

The U.S., however, is facing competition from other suppliers, including Russia. Saudi King Salman was in Moscow last month, where he signed an agreement to purchase the Russian-made S-400 air defense missile system.

Cahill said that trying to coordinate the Russian-made system with those made in the U.S. will be problematic. “The governments will have to decide whether that’s something they can do, but I can tell you absolutely that will be a difficult subject,” he said.

Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Maryland, has two generations of its latest PAC-3 missile, also known as Patriot Advanced Capability. Cahill said the company is delivering the first generation, known as CRI’s, to Saudi Arabia. The kingdom does not yet have the second generation, known as MSE’s.

A main difference between the PAC-3’s and THAAD systems is that the latter reaches much higher altitudes. THAAD, short for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, can destroy incoming missiles without a warhead through the energy of its collision with the target.

Cahill said Lockheed Martin is also developing a “mini hit-to-kill” missile that is about 2.5 feet-long (.75 meters) and weighs in at just five pounds (2.25 kilograms). It is designed to target rockets, artillery and mortar fire in ground combat.

A rift between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, has raised concerns in Congress about the unity of Washington’s Gulf allies. In late June, after the diplomatic spat erupted, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said he would halt arms sales to the Arab Gulf states until there’s “a better understanding of the path to resolve the current dispute.”

Cahill said because THAAD is seen as a “purely defensive system,” the State Department submitted the potential sale for Congressional notification and the 30-day period for review expired earlier this month.

“Generally speaking, THAAD has not typically been caught up in concerns about delivering offensive capability,” he said.

This story has been updated to clarify that the Patriot surface-to-air anti-missile system is produced by Raytheon Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. makes variants of the missile it fires.

November 13, 2017

CAIRO (AP) — Saudi Arabia said Monday that the Saudi-led coalition fighting Shiite rebels in Yemen will begin reopening airports and seaports in the Arab world’s poorest country, days after closing them over a rebel ballistic missile attack on Riyadh.

The announcement from the Saudi mission at the United Nations came after the coalition fighting Yemen’s rebels, known as Houthis, and their allies faced widespread international criticism over the closure, with the U.N. and over 20 aid groups saying it could bring millions of people closer to “starvation and death.”

“The first step in this process will be taken within 24 hours and involves reopening all the ports in areas controlled by” Yemen’s internationally recognized government, which the coalition backs, the mission’s statement said.

Those ports are in Aden, Mocha and Mukalla. For ports in rebel-held or disputed territories, like Hodeida, the mission said it had asked the U.N. to send a team of experts to discuss ways to make sure weapons can’t be smuggled in.

The Saudi-led coalition hopes that will prevent “the smuggling of weapons, ammunitions, missile parts and cash that are regularly being supplied by Iran and Iranian accomplices to the Houthi rebels,” the statement said.

Saudi Arabia announced it shut down all ports after a Nov. 4 ballistic missile attack on Riyadh near its international airport by the Houthis. Saudi Arabia and the United States have accused Iran of supplying the ballistic missile used in that attack, saying the missiles bore “Iranian markings.” The Houthis have denied that.

For its part, Iran long has denied offering any arms to Yemen, though it has backed the Houthis and highlighted the high civilian casualties from the Saudi-led coalition’s campaign of airstrikes.

Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

November 9, 2017

Saudi Arabian authorities have carried out further arrests and frozen more bank accounts under an expanding anti-corruption crackdown that was announced last Saturday against the Kingdom’s political and business elite, Reuters reported, quoting official sources.

Since the campaign kickoff, dozens of royal family members, officials and business executives have already been held in the purge. They face allegations of money laundering, bribery, extortion and exploiting public office for personal gain.

According to the sources, the anti-corruption authorities have also frozen the bank accounts of Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, one of the most senior members of the ruling Al Saud, and some of his immediate family members.

Nayef, known as MbN, was ousted as Crown Prince in June when King Salman replaced him with the then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Those who were held most recently include individuals with links to the immediate family of the late Crown Prince and Defense Minister Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz who died in 2011, the sources noted.

“Others appear to be lower-level managers and officials,” the sources told Reuters.

Since Sunday, Saudi Arabia’s central bank has been expanding the list of accounts it is requiring lenders to freeze on an almost hourly basis, according to an official banker, who preferred anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

The number of domestic bank accounts frozen as a result of the purge is over 1,700 and rising, up from 1,200, the banker added.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171109-in-purge-crackdown-saudi-arabia-makes-fresh-arrests-freezes-royals-accounts/.

2017-11-05

RIYADH – Saudi Arabia has arrested dozens of senior figures including princes, ministers and a top business tycoon, in what authorities hailed Sunday as a “decisive” anti-corruption sweep as the kingdom’s crown prince consolidates power.

Prominent billionaire Al-Waleed bin Talal was among the 11 princes arrested late Saturday, reports said, immediately after a new anti-corruption commission headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was established by royal decree.

Separately, the head of the Saudi National Guard, once a leading contender to the throne, as well as the navy chief and the economy minister were replaced in a series of high-profile sackings that sent shock waves through the kingdom.

The dramatic purge comes at a time of unprecedented social and economic transformation in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, as Prince Mohammed steps up his reform drive for a post-oil era.

Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television reported that the princes, four current ministers and dozens of ex-ministers were arrested as the commission launched a probe into old cases such as floods that devastated the Red Sea city of Jeddah in 2009.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said the commission’s goal was to “preserve public money, punish corrupt people and those who exploit their positions”.

Shares in Kingdom Holding, 95 percent of which is owned by Prince Al-Waleed, dived 9.9 percent as the Saudi stock exchange opened Sunday after reports of his arrest.

The prince’s office was not reachable for comment.

“With this (crackdown), the kingdom heralds a new era and policy of transparency, clarity and accountability,” Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan was quoted as saying by SPA.

“The decisive decisions will preserve the investment environment and boost trust in the rule of law.”

The kingdom’s top council of clerics also lauded the anti-corruption efforts as “important”, essentially giving religious backing to the crackdown.

An aviation source said that security forces had grounded private jets at airports, possibly to prevent high-profile figures from leaving the country.

– ‘Shock waves’ –

“The breadth and scale of the arrests appears to be unprecedented in modern Saudi history,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.

“The reported detention of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, if true, would send shock waves through the domestic and international business community,” Ulrichsen said.

The purge comes less than two weeks after Prince Mohammed welcomed thousands of global business leaders to Riyadh for an investment summit, showcasing his reform drive that has shaken up the kingdom.

It follows a wave of arrests of influential clerics and activists in September as the 32-year-old prince, often known as MBS, cements his grip on power.

Analysts said many of those detained were resistant to Prince Mohammed’s aggressive foreign policy that includes the boycott of Gulf neighbor Qatar as well as some of his bold policy reforms, including privatizing state assets and cutting subsidies.

The latest purge saw Prince Miteb bin Abdullah sacked as the head of the National Guard, an elite internal security force. His removal consolidates the crown prince’s control of the kingdom’s security institutions.

To analysts, Prince Mohammed’s meteoric rise has seemed almost Shakespearean in its aggression and calculation. In June, he edged out a 58-year-old cousin, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, to become heir to the throne.

At the time, Saudi television channels showed the bearded Prince Mohammed kissing the hand of the older prince and kneeling before him in a show of reverence. Western media reports later said that the deposed prince had been placed under house arrest, a claim strongly denied by Saudi authorities.

Already viewed as the de facto ruler controlling all the major levers of government, from defense to the economy, the prince is widely seen to be stamping out traces of internal dissent before a formal transfer of power from his 81-year-old father King Salman.

At the same time, he has projected himself as a liberal reformer in the ultra-conservative kingdom with a series of bold moves including the decision allowing women to drive from next June.

Foreign diplomats predict that Prince Mohammed, set to be the first millennial to occupy the Saudi throne, could well be in control of Saudi Arabia for at least half a century.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85769.

2017-11-01

KHOBAR – Saudi Arabia has set up a new authority for cyber security and named its minister of state Musaed al-Aiban its chairman, strengthening security in the world’s largest oil exporter, a royal decree said.

The National Authority for Cyber Security will be made up of the head of state security, the head of intelligence, the deputy interior minister and assistant to the minister of defense, SPA said late on Tuesday.

The authority will be linked to the King and is created to “boost cyber security of the state, protect its vital interests, national security and sensitive infrastructure,” it said.

It will also improve protection of networks, information technology systems and data.

Saudi Arabia has been target of frequent cyber attacks.

Earlier this year, it put out an alert about the Shamoon virus, which cripples computers by wiping their disks after the labor ministry had been attacked and a chemicals firm reported a network disruption.

The worst cyber attack to date was when Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company was hit by the Shamoon virus in 2012.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85703.

October 26, 2017

Several Israeli companies are in talks with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia about business opportunities in the Kingdom’s new “smart city”, according to documents obtained by the Jerusalem Post.

The Israeli daily claims to have seen correspondence confirming economic cooperation between Arab diplomats and businessmen in Tel Aviv; Israeli firms will reportedly be competing under the table for billion-dollar contracts from the Saudi government.

“The Saudis are not so willing to cooperate with the Israelis formally, but … it’s much easier to create all kinds of cooperation on water, energy, ag-tech, food tech. This is the stuff that the prince of Saudi Arabia [Mohammed Bin Salman] wants to promote in the smart city,” said a source in Israeli venture capital who is familiar with the project.

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia officially launched the NEOM, a developmental project to create an economic zone spanning the country and parts of Egypt and Jordan. Designed to free the Kingdom of its dependency on oil, it will focus on industries including water, biotechnology, food, advanced manufacturing and entertainment; at an estimated cost of $500 billion.

The project is part of Bin Salman’s 2030 economic vision for the country, which he has also promised will come with modernization.

The news comes amid increased rumors of a burgeoning relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel; causing controversy in recent weeks. The normalizing of relations between the two countries remains a proposal that has repeatedly been rejected by the Saudi public.

Yesterday Major General Anwar Bin Majed Bin Anwar Eshki, a former government advisor, was reported to have confirmed suspected relations when he said diplomatic and intelligence cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Israel were solely based on non-political matters.

Last week, Israeli officials also confirmed that Bin Salman had secretly visited Tel Aviv in September. The suggestion was vehemently denied by Saudi officials who insist that settling the Palestinian issue must take place before any normalization of relations.

Last month, leaked documents by the Twitter account Mujtahidd spoke of the country’s plans to “accept Israel as a brotherly state”, causing widespread controversy. The rumors were again denied by state officials. But recent months have witnessed an informal economic rapprochement between Riyadh and Tel Aviv, with former Saudi businessmen and former senior officials visiting Israel.

Israel has also supported the current blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt on Qatar. Tel Aviv has repeatedly called on Doha not to host prominent Palestinian figures, a view now shared by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171026-israel-companies-in-talks-to-invest-in-saudi-arabias-smart-city/.