Despite renewed assurances given to Washington that it is no longer enforcing a trade boycott against the Jewish state, Saudi Arabia continues to prohibit Israeli-made goods from entering its territory, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
And while a senior US trade official sought to assure Congress last week that the embargo had in fact been removed, the Post found ample evidence to indicate that it remains in place.
"If a product is made in Israel, then it is a problem. It is not allowed here," Muhammad al-Matrafi, a spokesman for the Director's Office of the King Khalid Airport in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, said by phone on Monday.
"That is the law here in Saudi Arabia, and we do not allow those kinds of things into the kingdom," he said, adding, "If there is any mention of Israel on the container or on the product, then it can not enter Saudi Arabia."
A Saudi customs official at the Persian Gulf port of Ras Tanurah was equally adamant that no Israeli-made goods would be permitted to enter the country.
"There is still a ban on Israeli products, and anything declared as coming from Israel will not be allowed," said the customs official, who gave his name only as Capt. Hosni. "Some people may try to say that a product was made elsewhere, but if there is anything which shows it was made in Israel, then it is a problem," he said.
Another Saudi customs official at the Al Durah land crossing on the Saudi-Jordanian border reaffirmed that the ban on Israeli-made goods remains in place. Asked by phone if products made in Israel could be brought into the desert kingdom, he angrily replied, "No, no, no. Absolutely not," before hanging up.
The Saudi position appears to contradict assurances given last week by US Deputy Trade Representative Susan Schwab. In written responses to questions raised by members of the Senate Finance Committee, Schwab said that Saudi Arabia had told Washington that it was abiding by its pledge to end the boycott of the Jewish state.
In November 2005, the Saudis promised the Bush administration that they would remove restrictions on trade with Israel, after Washington conditioned Riyadh's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) on such a move.
But, as the Post first reported on March 7, the Saudis went ahead and played host to a major international conference aimed at intensifying the anti-Israel boycott, raising concerns in Congress about Riyadh's compliance with its commitments.
In addition, an official Saudi delegation took part in a meeting of the Arab League's boycott office in Damascus earlier this month.
"We have raised this issue directly with senior Saudi officials on several occasions, both in Riyadh and in Washington," Schwab told the Senators last week. "In all cases, we have received assurances that Saudi Arabia fully understands and remains committed to its WTO obligations, including the WTO obligation to treat all WTO members according to WTO rules."
The WTO bars members from engaging in discriminatory trade practices, such as embargoes or boycotts.
Nonetheless, the Post has also found that a report authored by a former US diplomat and issued recently by one of the largest banks in Saudi Arabia reaffirms that the country's boycott of Israel remains in place, despite Riyadh's accession to the WTO.
The 44-page document, "Saudi Arabia and the WTO," was prepared by Brad Bourland, chief economist at the Saudi Samba Financial Group.
Bourland previously worked for the US State Department for 18 years, including as first secretary of the American Embassy in Riyadh, where he was responsible for analyzing the Saudi economy on behalf of the US government.
In a question-and-answer section Bourland's report notes that, "Saudi Arabia's trade stance toward Israel does not change due to WTO accession... The primary Arab League boycott of Israel remains in place."