The President’s Inbox Recap: Israeli-Saudi Peace Deal – Council on Foreign Relations

On Wednesday, I recapped Jim’s discussion on The President’s Inbox with Zoe Liu about China’s faltering economy. Today, I’m recapping his discussion with Steven Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies. They discussed the possibility of an Israeli-Saudi peace deal and its consequences for the United States and the Middle East. 

Steven A. Cook, the Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at CFR, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss the ongoing negotiations to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Mentioned on the Podcast


Steven A. Cook, “How Sisi Ruined Egypt,” Foreign Policy


Steven A. Cook and Martin Indyk, The Case for a New U.S.-Saudi Strategic Compact 


Andrew Exum, “The Israeli Saudi Deal Had Better Be a Good One,” The Atlantic


Thomas Friedman, “Biden Is Weighing a Big Middle East Deal,” New York Times

Israeli-Saudi Peace Deal, With Steven A. Cook audio

Series, Program

A rising China. A new nuclear era. A warming planet. The United States faces a complex and rapidly changing world. With more than four million downloads, The President’s Inbox goes beyond the headlines as host James M. Lindsay speaks with leading experts about how the United States should respond to global challenges and opportunities that are shaping the future.

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Each episode of The President’s Inbox explores a foreign policy challenge facing the United States.

Here are three highlights from the conversation:  

1.) An Israeli-Saudi peace agreement would be significant. While Steven didn’t think such a deal would rival the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace deal in importance—that agreement ended the most important military threat to Israel’s security—he argued that an Israeli-Saudi deal “would change the geopolitics of the Middle East and the broader relationship between Israel and the Muslim world for the better.” He noted that while a peace deal wouldn’t “fundamentally change” the American-led order in the region, it “would allow the Israelis, and the Saudis, the Emiratis, and others who want to join to build a kind of integrated region.” That could mean a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East.  

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Saudi Arabia

Middle East

2.) The United States is the “middleman” in negotiations between the Saudis and Israelis. Saudi Arabia wants something from the United States in return for formally recognizing Israel: a binding American pledge to defend the kingdom if it is attacked along with robust arms sales to enable Riyadh to deter attackers. The Saudis have in mind the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace deal, which gave Cairo long-term access to Washington’s support. The open question is whether the Biden administration can deliver enough of what Riyadh wants.  

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