In a country where the government tightly controls social media posts and people have been arrested for being too outspoken about certain issues, many Saudis took to the internet to praise Hamas’s actions and denounce Israel.
Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel — which has left at least 1,500 people dead on both sides — effectively rules out any agreement between Israel and the Palestinian authorities that would help achieve Saudi Arabia’s objectives. That means any normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia is probably on hold for the foreseeable future.
Hamas’s attack “stalls Saudi Arabia’s stabilization and development plans” for the region, said Lina Khatib, director of SOAS University of London’s Middle East Institute.
That might actually be a lesser worry for MBS than how events have been playing out among the Saudi population.
Othman Al-Khuwaiter, a Saudi energy sector expert and columnist based in the eastern Saudi city of Dhahran, reveled in what he characterized as the humiliation of Israelis.
“God willing, this will be seared in their memories forever,” Al-Khuwaiter wrote. “They are under siege just when they thought they were masters in full control.”
At the start of the attack over the weekend, Saad Al-Bazei, a professor of English at King Saud University in Riyadh, hailed “the unprecedented and glorious achievements of the Palestinian resistance deep within Israel.”
Social media accounts of individuals that normally post every utterance by MBS and praise his every move were quick to hit back.
“This is an attack on Saudi Arabia’s grand project for the Middle East and we must be in solidarity with the state of Israel,” Badr Al-Saadoun, a Riyadh-based lawyer, wrote on social-media site X.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry called for an “immediate end to escalation by both sides” but added that “the exploding situation” was a result of Israel’s “occupation and deprivation of the Palestinian people of their legitimate rights and the systematic provocations against their sanctities.”
The statement was widely shared by Saudis defending Hamas’s actions.
Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank that has been involved for years in efforts to forge Saudi-Israeli normalization, said the statement angered many of Israel’s allies in the U.S. and prompted calls to Saudi officials in Riyadh and Reema bint Bandar, the Saudi ambassador in the U.S.
A spokesperson for the embassy said he couldn’t immediately comment.
As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed massive retaliation for Hamas’s actions, it would be unthinkable for MBS to deliver an Israel normalization deal to his people during carnage in Palestinian territories, Dubowitz said.
“This is very much what” Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei “intended,” he said.