While there are officially no diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, in recent years Saudi has used Israeli spyware against critical journalists and human rights defenders, and relations between the two countries are slowly strengthening.
Israel – Saudi Relations
Historically, Saudi was part of the Arab boycott of Israel, as well as lead the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) boycott since 1973. While the Arab boycott was officially lifted as part of the Oslo accords in the early 90’s, only in 2005, Saudi Arabia announced the end of its ban on Israeli goods and services. In 2016, the relationship took another turn with the visit of former Saudi general Eshki, who was once a top adviser to the Saudi government, to Israel. Eshki lead a delegation of Saudi business men, officially to push the Saudi Peace Initiative, but also signaling an opening of other relations between the countries.Former Saudi general visits Jerusalem, meets Israeli officials
In September 2020, with the signing of Israel’s normalization agreement with the UAE, the Israeli Prime minister and the Saudi crown prince met making it the first official high-level meeting between the countries.Israel’s Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Hold First Known Meeting The same month, Israel and Saudi Arabia announced a plan to build a pipeline between the two countries in order to export Saudi oil to Europe.Oil, guns, and gas: How Gulf money will fuel Israel’s arms industry Two months later, Netanyahu visited Saudi Arabia.Israeli prime minister makes historic visit to Saudi Arabia, intelligence official confirms
Yossi Cohen, the head of the Mossad between 2016-2021, visited Saudi Arabia together with prime minister Netanyahu in his 2020 visit. Today he workds for the investment group Softbank that owns the cyber companies Cybereason and Anyvision.“And if we talk to Bibi, will that help?”: The security establishment is the sales agent of Israeli cyber abroad
In 2022 a development in economic and business ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia was reported. According to Israeli and Saudi sources, large deals were signed, Israeli passports with special visas to Saudi were given and advanced contacts concerning Saudi investements in Israel were documented.Israelis begin doing deals in Saudi Arabia Dozens of Israeli business and tech figures visit Saudi Arabia — report Multi-million dollar deals between both countries include deals in the agriculture tech sector and a deal for an Israeli water tech solution.Dozens of Israeli business and tech figures visit Saudi Arabia — report
In July 2022 Saudi Arabia opened its airspace to Israeli flights.The Latest: Saudi Arabia lifts ban on Israeli flights
With no official diplomatic relations, Israeli and Saudi military corporation has been ongoing, mostly facilitated by US mediators, in relation to Iran,Sunday Times: Israel, Saudi Arabia Cooperating to Plan Possible Iran Attack, Syria,Saudi jets helping Israel strike pro-Iran militias on Syria-Iraq border and on other occasions. A leaked diplomatic cable from 2017 called Israeli diplomatic corps to back Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen.Israel instructs diplomats to support Saudis: Cable
In the last few years, CitizenLab exposed that Saudi has used the Israeli spyware Pegasus. In 2020, NSO Group, the company that operates Pegasus, rolled out their new big-data tool “Fleming”, including in Saudi Arabia.NSO Group’s Breach of Private Data with ‘Fleming’, a COVID-19 Contact-Tracing Software
The Israeli company Cellebrite provided Phone-Hacking services to Saudi Arabia in 2019.Revealed: Israeli Firm Provided Phone-hacking Services to Saudi Arabia
In November 2021 Israeli cyber companies attended an international cybersecurity conference in Saudi Arabi called “@Hack” that was organized by Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones, in collaboration with the company Black Hat. Among the Israeli companies were: SentinelOne, Imperva, PaloAlto Networks, CyberArk and Checkpoint.Israeli companies attend int’l cyber security conference in Saudi Arabia
In July 2022, the Wall Street Journal reported that top military officials from Israel and Saudi Arabia have met in secret US-brokered talks to discuss military cooperation. Delegations of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt met the Israeli Military Chief of Staff in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in March 2022.Israel and Saudi Arabia ‘in talks over joint defence against Iran’
Usage of Israeli Arms
In 2017 a demonstration of the Pegasus spyware was conducted in Cyprus for Saudi Executives. NSO demonstrated the “Zero Click” option. Short time after the demo Saudi Arabia became a customer of NSO in a long-term $50m contract.“And if we talk to Bibi, will that help?”: The security establishment is the sales agent of Israeli cyber abroad
In 2018, the spyware Pegasus was implicated in the murder of Saudi Jamal Khashoggi through the hacking of the phone of his colleague Omar Abdulaziz.THE NSO CONNECTION TO JAMAL KHASHOGGI In 2020, dozens of Al-Jazeera journalists were hacked using Pegasus, most likely to the request of Saudi Arabia.Dozens of Al Jazeera journalists allegedly hacked using Israeli firm’s spyware
In 2019 the Israeli company Quadream sold spyware technology to Saudi Arabi through a Cypriot company. Quadream was established by ex- NSO employees. In the same near the Israeli company Cellebrite provided spying services to Saudi Arabia.The Israeli cyber company Quadrim sells hacking technology to the Saudi government
The New York Times reported that Israel has continued to allow and even encourage cyber-surveillance companies to secretly work with Saudi Arabia, despite recurring reports that Israeli tech was being used to clamp down on dissent and target opposition figures, including possible ties to the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. According to the report, one of the firms given permission by the Defense Ministry to work with Saudi Arabia was Candiru. The report said the Saudis are continuing to use Israeli-made spyware to monitor opponents of the regime.Report: Israel pushed spyware firms to work with Saudis despite Khashoggi murder
Human Rights Violations
Saudi Arabia is infamous for its limitations on freedom of expression and organization. This includes the authorities’ continued prosecution of human rights defenders and peaceful critical individuals before the Specialized Criminal Court, a counter-terror court. Political parties, unions, and human rights organizations are all forbidden, and all mass gatherings, including protests, are forbidden.Everything you need to know about human rights in Saudi Arabia: 2021 The extrajudicial execution in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, while not officially carried out by the Saudi government, was part of the ongoing persecution of journalists.
The death penalty is still used in Saudi as part of the criminal code, with 184 executions in 2019 – the third highest in the world.Executions Around the World: 2020 Women still require permission from a male guardian for a long list of rights, including getting married, providing consent for their children to marry, travel, and much more.
Externally, Saudi leads the coalition conducting the armed intervention in the armed conflict in Yemen since 2015. The coalition is implicated in war crimes and other serious violations of international law and gross human rights violations.Everything you need to know about human rights in United Arab Emirates: 2021 Up until 2021, Saudi Arabia was the leading member of the coalition imposing economic and political sanctions on Qatar, that partially ended in an agreement in January 2021.