Saudis tried to stop UAE-Israel-Jordan solar energy deal

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The Saudi government pressured the United Arab Emirates to back off a major solar energy deal with Israel and Jordan, two senior Israeli officials with direct knowledge and another source briefed on the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: The agreement signed on Monday and helped across the finish line by U.S. climate envoy John Kerry is the biggest renewable energy project in the region. It will see the UAE build a massive solar farm in Jordan to supply electricity to Israel, and Israel in turn will build a desalination plant to provide water to Jordan.

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  • The Saudis were caught by surprise when Axios broke the news of the forthcoming deal last Wednesday, the Israeli officials say.

  • All three sources say Saudi officials were upset because they felt the deal undermined Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's plans to lead the region on climate through his "Green Middle East" vision.

  • Between the lines: The UAE and Israel were able to negotiate the deal due to the Abraham Accords, but the Saudis don't have diplomatic relations with Israel and were therefore were left out.

Behind the scenes: Senior Saudi officials called their Emirati counterparts to protest and push them to back off the deal. They even proposed an alternative Saudi-UAE-Jordan deal that would sideline Israel, a source briefed on the conversations tells me.

  • The Emiratis notified Kerry and their Israeli and Jordanian counterparts of the Saudi pressure and asked for cosmetic changes to the language of the agreement to appease the Saudis. The other parties didn’t object.

  • The signing of the agreement was delayed for several hours on Monday due to the Saudi intervention, the Israeli officials say. It was finally signed on Monday afternoon, with Kerry in attendance.

What they're saying: Four senior Israeli officials with direct involvement in the deal declined to comment on the record due to the sensitivity of the issue. Emirati officials also declined to comment. The Saudi Embassy in Washington hadn't provided a comment by the time of publication.

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