RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA — Saudi Arabia has inked a deal worth $250 million in advanced espionage technologies with Israel after a series of backroom meetings, according to a recent report from Emirati outlet Al-Khaleej.
This revelation highlights the Kingdom’s increasingly aggressive spy apparatus under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) — used to heighten attacks on journalists and dissidents living abroad, as evidenced by the recent killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The exclusive report, obtained by the Jerusalem Post, claims that Saudi and Israeli officials held a series of secret meetings in Washington and London with the assistance of a European mediator.
The tech package includes the “most sophisticated systems” Israel has ever sold to any Arab country. The purchase also includes Israeli-led training for Saudi technicians operating the new systems. Saudi Arabia has already put most of the new espionage technology into use.
The report states that the two countries also exchanged strategic military information and plan to expand their military cooperation in the future. The relationship between Riyadh and Tel Aviv has blossomed over the past year as the two countries have openly joined forces against a shared enemy, Iran.
In October, Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot met with his Saudi counterpart, Gen. Fayyad bin Hamed Al-Ruwaili, in Washington at the annual Countering Violent Extremist Organizations Conference. The meeting followed up on a prior unpublicized meeting between the two generals.
Also in October, Al-Khaleej reported Riyadh’s plans to purchase Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, with negotiations taking place in Washington. This cooperation stemmed from Saudi fears of a failing U.S.-supplied Patriot system in the context of Yemeni missile attacks against the monarchy, which have increased in response to the Kingdom’s ongoing invasion of Yemen and persistent air attacks on civilians that have claimed thousands of lives.
Increased spying and attacks on dissidents abroad
Under the leadership of Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has kicked its spy apparatus into overdrive. The monarchy’s primary targets include opposition journalists and dissident activists living abroad, particularly in the United Kingdom but also around the globe.
From their embassy office in London, Saudi secret police track Saudi dissidents living in exile. These tactics are replicated in various Saudi embassies around the world, forming a vast web of global surveillance, according to The Telegraph.
It is unclear to what extent the Saudi secret police cooperate with fellow intelligence agencies such as the FBI or M16 to gather intelligence on journalists and activists. However, their relationships are likely closer than publicly disclosed.
“Instead of a consensual system they have moved to a very autocratic system, which relies much more on the intelligence services hounding out dissent at home and abroad,” former CIA Intelligence officer Bruce Riedel told The Telegraph.
One leading Saudi activist felt compelled to quit Twitter entirely, citing harassment by Saudi “government trolls” who use social media as a tool to launch attacks on dissidents. Manal al-Sharif is a leading figure campaigning for women’s driving rights who now lives abroad in exile.
According to some reports, British intelligence was aware of the Saudi plot to kidnap journalist Jamal Khashoggi three weeks before the incident took place, ultimately leading to Khashoggi’s death. A report from Sunday Express claims that Khashoggi was preparing documents to expose Saudi Arabia’s use of chemical weapons in Yemen.
It’s unclear exactly how Saudi diplomats knew Khashoggi would enter the consulate that day. If he hadn’t made an appointment, this would imply that Saudi intelligence was intercepting his personal data in the form of texts, emails, or phone calls, which would provide them with preparation for his arrival at the consulate.
Jamal Khashoggi’s death serves as a dark example of the Kingdom’s growing global espionage apparatus and the actions it’s willing to take against foreign nationals.
Already in use, Riyadh’s $250 million purchase of Israeli spy technology will no doubt result in many similar attacks against journalists and activists living abroad.
Top Photo | An man lights a candle during a vigil for Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, Oct. 25, 2018. Khashoggi was killed by Saudi government personnel while he was in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Lefteris Pitarakis | AP