A covert Saudi initiative backed by the United States aimed at forging closer relations between the kingdom and Israel faltered following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
Global outrage over Khashoggi’s killing has limited the ability of the kingdom's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to reach out to Israel, a move the Journal called "risky".
Former royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani and former deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri were fired for their suspected involvement in the murder. The two advisors, who were close to bin Salman, also played key roles in establishing secret contact with Israel, according to the Journal.
Their removal from office poses as an obstacle to developing relations between the two countries.
"Things have definitely cooled off right after Khashoggi’s murder," a senior Saudi government official told the Journal.
"The last thing the kingdom wants is for this to come out now and cause another backlash."
Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and columnist for The Washington Post, went missing after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
Saudi Arabia initially denied any role in his disappearance.
After producing contradictory explanations, Riyadh acknowledged that he was killed inside the diplomatic building, blaming the act on a botched rendition operation.
Surveillance technology is what brought the two countries together, a sector that Saudi Arabia wants to invest in.
The newspaper said Assiri made secret trips to Israel, where he focused on how the kingdom could benefit from Israel's surveillance technology. Qahtani worked in Saudi Arabia to soften and lighten Israel’s image in the country and also played a role in the purchase of Israeli surveillance technology on behalf of the kingdom.
"Saudi Arabia and Israel have edged closer despite the sizable political risks in the kingdom to be seen cozying up to a country widely reviled in the Arab world for occupying Palestinian territory and depriving the Palestinians of a state of their own," the Journal said.
In the aftermath of Khashoggi's killing, however, King Salman bin Abdulaziz has taken a more active role in governance, causing a problem for Saudi-Israeli relations, as the king sees the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as the most important issue in the region.
"The level of direct security, military and intelligence cooperation between Israel and the Gulf states, with America as a partner, is light-years ahead of what it was," Robert Wexler, president of the S. Daniel Abraham center for Middle East Peace, told the Journal.
"But without a resolution on the Palestinian-Israeli issue, there is a glass ceiling."