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Saudi Arabia, UAE will pressure Kuwait's new emir to normalise with Israel, report says

Kuwait has for decades prided itself as a neutral mediator [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 October, 2020

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As speculation swirls over which Arab country will formalise ties with Israel next, Saudi and Emirati pressure is reportedly pushing Kuwait to follow suit.

Following the death of Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, Kuwait is likely to face pressure from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to follow their lead on a number of key diplomatic issues, including normalising ties with Israel, a senior Kuwaiti royal has said.

The royal, whose identity was not disclosed, told The Wall Street Journal that the Gulf state's new leader, Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah, does not support unilateral normalisation.

“Kuwait wants a neutral position,” the source was quoted as saying. “We won’t support and praise what is happening but we won’t criticise it either.”

Sheikh Sabah, who died on Tuesday, cut a reputation as a shrewd, unshakeable leader who helped steer Kuwait through the 1990 Iraqi invasion, crashes in global oil markets and upheavals in parliament and on the streets.

Under his rule, Kuwait prided itself on its role as a mediator between its fellow Arab states, with Sheikh Sabah having attempted in his final years to find a solution to the Gulf diplomatic crisis.

Sheikh Nawaf was closely involved in much of his predecessor's decision policy formation, and is expected  continue to steer the country in the same direction. With public opinion in Kuwait strongly against normalisation, the new leader will likely attempt to avoid a dramatic shift in diplomatic activity with Israel.

“I don’t see it coming,” said Yoel Guzanksy, former head of the Gulf desk on Israel’s national security council, to the WSJ. “It’s going to be suicide internally.”

Sheikh Nawaf, 83, is seen by observers as an uncontroversial choice, with speculation focussing largely on his upcoming appointment of an heir.

Among the choices for Sheikh Nawaf, who is already in poor health, is Sheikh Sabah’s eldest son, 72-year-old Sheikh Nasser al-Sabah - a senior royal already known to have liaised with Israel on behalf of Kuwait.

According to a 2008 WikiLeaks cable, Sheikh Nasser was once tasked by his later father with “maintaining a discreet and confidential liaison relationship with a dual national Israeli representative based elsewhere in the Gulf.”

The former defence minister also visited Washington earlier this month, on a trip which was rounded off with US President Donald Trump claiming that Kuwait would be next in line to ink a deal with Israel.

A week later, however, Kuwait's prime minister reiterated his government's insistence on peace between the Palestinians and Israelis before normalisation.

Under Kuwait's constitution, Sheikh Nawaf may take up to a year to name a successor, but analysts expect a decision in the coming weeks.

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