Pakistan has always sought to maintain a policy of neutrality — or let’s call it balance — between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In this regard, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy long term strategic ties backed by various economic, defence and military-to-military cooperation agreements, not to mention the religious affinities that underscore this bond. At the same time, Pakistan has also been very conscious of Iran’s genuine concerns when it comes to managing its ties with Saudi Arabia and has been making great strides in enhancing the spectrum of cooperation with Iran too. Pakistan’s refusal of Saudi request to send forces to the Yemen war is usually taken as an important example of Pakistan’s commitment to the policy of neutrality. In order to understand the dynamics and the future trajectory of the triad — Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran — and Pakistan’s role in it, an important element that needs careful consideration is the growing Saudi-Israel cordiality and their perception of the changing dynamics on the conflict ridden geo-political landscape of the Middle East. None of the three countries has formal diplomatic relations with Israel. Their opposition to the state of Israel in Palestine largely stems from religious, humanitarian and legal considerations and the fact that the Israeli occupation forces have left many Palestinians homeless in their own home through illegal settlements, brutal use of force and territorial expansion. The Arab Muslim world and Pakistan do not have adequate reasons to look for any cordial ties with Israel either considering not only the 1967 Arab-Israel war but also the recent US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, reflecting a major departure from traditional US approach to the issue and a violation of the relevant UN resolutions. Pakistan’s perception of Israel is not only shaped by the latter’s abominable treatment of Palestinians but also by its strategic ties with India and the US Paradoxically, despite being the ‘Guardian’ of Islam’s two holy mosques and a self-proclaimed champion of the Palestinian cause, Saudi ruling elite in recent times have become more overt and accommodative in their dealings with Israel and the US. The general view about this development is that Saudi Arabia seeks modernisation and diversification on economic and defence fronts. Saudi Crown Prince, and its de facto ruler, Muhammad bin Salman’s move to de-link religion from politics by allowing more personal freedom to the citizens explains this pragmatism. Indeed, his assertive regional policy has led the kingdom into seemingly intractable competition for power and influence in the region with the other regional giant Iran, in Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon etc. Therefore, in the absence of any considerable indigenous military industrial base and prowess, Saudi Arabia is compelled to look for multiple partners and options to sustain its influence, at a time when the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East witnesses declining hegemony of the long term ally i.e. the US, and rising influence of Russia and Iran. As a result, Saudi Arabia considers cooperation with Israel a logical response in the light of its capacity for providing hi-tech military hardware to Saudi Arabia, not to mention its enmity towards regional ‘antagonist’ Iran and influence in the US policymaking circles. As for Pakistan and Iran, there are no prospects of good relations with Israel, at least in the near future. This presents a bleak picture for them in the light of current trends in Saudi-Israel relations indicating that the two countries have gone a long way to establish various channels of interaction and cooperation, overtly or covertly, to achieve mutual goals. The foremost reason that drives Saudi Arabia and Israel closer undoubtedly remain their shared threat perception of Iran. In recent times, Iran appears to have prevailed in various theatres of conflicts, including in Syria where it backs Bashar al-Assad regime along with Russia. Both Saudi Arabia and Israel consider Iran’s growing influence in the region as a threat to their respective security and strategic interests. Indeed, by gaining a level of working relationship with Saudi Arabia, Israel seeks to concretise its occupation of Palestine while at the same time continuing with its atrocious policies against the Palestinians. In this complex web of things, Pakistan is confronted with a delicate situation. Because Pakistan’s perception of Israel is not only shaped by the latter’s abominable treatment of Palestinians but also by its strategic ties with Pakistan’s arch rival India and the US. Keeping these facts in view, if we are to assume a conflict situation involving Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel, this inevitably has some implications for Pakistan’s policy of balance, and creates strategic anxiety in Islamabad. Pakistan’s policy of balance in the turbulent region of Middle East is increasingly under threat owing to the implicit and explicit Saudi overtures to Israel. And in this context, Pakistan should keep its dialogue channels open on all sides. The writer is a research affiliate at Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Islamabad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, May 10th 2018.