Israel’s bid to land a robotic probe on the lunar surface as part of the Google Lunar XPrize was reported in peril of failing before it gets off the launch pad, according to a recent story in Haaretz. SpaceIL, as the project is called, needed $30 million to complete the lunar probe and get it on the way to the moon. The need for the funding was a matter of some urgency. The rules of the competition state that the winner has to be on the moon and had to have performed a number of tasks by the end of the first quarter of 2018.

Given the funds, SpaceIL could complete the probe in three weeks and be able to go to the next stage of testing before it launches on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceIL has given itself until the end of the year to come up with at least $20 million in a crowd funding effort. The most recent news about the funding situation is that SpaceIL has gotten all but $7.5 million of what is needed and may even have that, though no word is available currently. As of January 2018 the Israeli effort still appears to be ongoing.

Saudi Arabia drives to reform itself

In the meantime, across the Red Sea, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is in the midst of profound social change. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir to the throne, is spearheading a drive to remake Saudi society into something that he says would reflect a more moderate version of Islam than the hard-line Wahhabist version that has prevailed for the past few decades.

He has also conducted an anti-corruption campaign that has caused numerous members of the royal family and other important businessmen to be placed under arrest. Some have been able to buy their way out of imprisonment in exchange for paying back money they are alleged to have stolen, $100 billion, so far.

Bin Salman has a number of reasons for his desire to bring his country more closely into the modern world.

He is keenly aware that with the fracking boom in the United States and the growth of renewable energy sources, oil and gas can no longer be the sole foundation of the Saudi economy. The Kingdom has started to make heavy investments in high-tech enterprises.

Second, Saudi Arabia has become increasingly concerned about the imperial outreach of Iran. Iranian Revolutionary Guards have established a permanent presence in Iraq and Syria, threatening the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia. The Islamic Republic of Iran is also thought to be still driving to create a nuclear arsenal and the missiles to deliver them, despite the agreement with the Obama administration.

The need for a high-tech economy and fear of Iran has led Saudi Arabia into a tacit alliance with Israel, something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Israel and Saudi Arabia, both threatened by Iran, have started to share intelligence. The Jerusalem Post, quoting Arab media sources, reported that Bin Salman made a covert visit to Israel recently to discuss regional issues.

Could the Saudis invest in the Israeli moonshot?

All of this leads to an interesting pair of facts. Israel has a lot of high-tech knowledge and infrastructure. Saudi Arabia has a lot of money, much of it in private hands.

One wonders if – discreetly – some Saudi money could not find its way to bridging the funding gap or, if that is no longer necessary, even augmenting the money available for SpaceIL and getting the project on its way to the moon. The funds could be made available in exchange for some of the expertise the project has developed for the Moon Shot effort.

SpaceIL is shooting for the moon as a way to demonstrate Israel’s technological prowess and to inspire that country’s youth to pursue careers in science and engineering. However, if the effort could be made into a joint Israel-Saudi project, it could also become a vehicle for furthering Middle East peace and a future in which the countries of the region cooperate to build a better future rather than remain at the knife’s edge of war, which has been the case for decades.

Don't miss our page on Facebook!