Israelis who have studied the Arab world, including former intelligence and national-security officials, politicians, researchers and journalists, are deeply cautious about how much this shift has progressed, saying that Israel is far from being able to let its guard down toward its newfound friends.
Still, they speak of the change as an evolution that was largely hidden from public view until it became evident in the ways that Arab leaders started speaking about Israel.
In 2018, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia told an interviewer that Israelis “have the right to have their own land” and insisted that “our country doesn’t have a problem with Jews.” The same year, Bahrain’s foreign minister, Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, defended Israel’s airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria, writing on Twitter that, with Iran building up forces and rockets there, Israel “has the right to defend itself by eliminating the source of danger.”
Last year, Bahrain hosted a Trump administration conference promoting the economic aspects of its proposal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Sheikh Khalid regaled Israeli journalists with olive branches. “Israel is part of this heritage of this whole region, historically,” he told one, saying, “The Jewish people have a place amongst us.”
And only on Sept. 4, a Saudi imam at Mecca’s Grand Mosque preached about the Prophet Muhammad’s kindness toward a Jewish neighbor, in a sermon that was variously praised or attacked as appearing to lay the groundwork for a Saudi normalization of ties with Israel.
“They’re retelling the entire story of the Jews in the region,” said Einat Wilf, a former Israeli lawmaker. “And they’re changing the whole narrative: They’re not saying, ‘We still hate Israel, Jews are bad, we wish they’re gone but we need them against Iran.’ They’re saying the Jews belong here, that we’re not foreigners, and that the Palestinians need to accept us.”