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Quietly, Israel and the Gulf States Draw Closer Together

Seeing a hopelessly naive America, Jews and Arabs are finding common ground to face the Iranian menace.

by
Jonathan Spyer

Bio

October 24, 2013 - 10:42 am

Recent remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have fueled renewed speculation of behind-the-scenes links between Israel and the Gulf monarchies.

Netanyahu, speaking at the UN, said that “the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran and the emergence of other threats in our region have led many of our Arab neighbors to recognize, finally recognize, that Israel is not their enemy.”

He added: “This affords us the opportunity to overcome the historic animosities and build new relationships, new friendships, new hopes.”

There have been subsequent rumors of visits by senior Gulf officials to Israel, to discuss matters of common interest.

While it is difficult to acquire details of these contacts at the present time, it is a near certainty that they exist, on one level or another. Conversations with Israeli officials suggest that much is happening behind the scenes.

Israel and the key states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (most importantly, Saudi Arabia) share core views on the nature of key regional processes currently underway, and their desired outcome.  These commonalities have existed for some time, and it is likely that the contacts are themselves not all that new.

There are three areas in which Israel and the countries of the GCC (with the exception of Qatar) are on the same page.

They are: the urgency of the threat represented by the prospect of a nuclear Iran, the danger represented by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood over the last two years, and the perception that the United States fails to understand the urgency of these threats and, as a result, is acting in a naive and erroneous way on both.

On the Iranian nuclear issue, Riyadh is deeply troubled by the current Iranian ‘charm offensive’ and its apparent effects on the west.  Most importantly, the Saudis fear the prospect of a nuclear Iran, which could force Riyadh and the Gulf states to bend to its will, in return for guaranteeing the flow of oil through the Straits of Hormuz, and avoiding direct encroachment on their sources of energy.

Saudi Arabia faces Iran, directly across the Gulf.  It is a far more fragile construction than its Shia, Persian neighbor.  Over the decades, Riyadh and the other Gulf states sought to balance Iranian encroachment of this type through alliance with the U.S.

But the U.S. no longer seems such a reliable ally. So new strong and like-minded friends are needed.

On the Muslim Brotherhood, the Saudis feared the spread of this movement across the region, and were infuriated by the role of Qatar in supporting its successes in recent years.

Israel, too, was deeply concerned at the prospect of a new alliance of Sunni Islamist states, with AKP-led Turkey and Morsi’s Egypt chief among them.

Over the past year, the advance of the Muslim Brothers has been halted and partially reversed. In Tunisia and Egypt, the MB administrations have gone.  Qatar has a new, less activist emir.  The Muslim Brothers and Qatar have grown weaker among the Syrian rebels.

Saudi Arabia has been responsible for some of this, through financial support and political action. It has welcomed all of it.  So has Israel.

On the U.S.: the Saudis think that the current U.S. administration is hopelessly naive on the Middle East.  They were shocked at the abandonment of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in 2011.  They are equally vexed at the current indications of American and Western willingness to lift some sanctions against Iran in return for cosmetic concessions that would leave the core of Teheran’s nuclear program intact.

The Saudis were the first to congratulate General Abd al-Fatah al Sissi following his military coup in early July.  They are utterly dismayed by the current U.S. withholding of part of Washington’s package of military aid to Cairo because of what the U.S. regards as the insufficiently speedy transition back to elections in Egypt.

Again, Israel shares these perspectives. The absence of American leadership may well be the key factor in causing Israel and the Gulf states to draw closer.

On the face of it, any alliance between Jewish Israel and Salafi Saudi Arabia might appear an absurdity.  Israel is a liberal democracy and a Jewish state.  Saudi Arabia is a repressive absolute monarchy, based on a particular Salafi Muslim outlook which is deeply anti-Jewish and anti-Christian in nature.

This ideology is not a dead letter for the Saudis.  Rather, they invest heavily in spreading their particular rigid form of Islam in the west and elsewhere.  Their media and education system are rife with anti-Jewish prejudice.

But a clear distinction is made by the Saudis between the world of ideology/media/culture and the realm of raison d’etat.  Hence, there is no reason to think they would not be able to publicly vilify Israel, while maintaining off the radar links with it against more immediate enemies.

In this regard, it is worth remembering the Wikileaks revelation of remarks made in private by Saudi King Abdullah to American General David Petraeus in April, 2008, in which he recommended military action against the Iranian nuclear program.  The king referred to Iran as the “head of the snake,” which should be cut off.   No similarly venomous remarks on Israel were quoted from the conversation, which took place far from the public eye.

Of course the common interests only go so far.  Saudi Arabia supports Salafi Islamist forces in both Syria and Egypt.  Saudi money finds its way to Salafi elements among the Palestinians.  But the areas of commonality are on issues of cardinal importance to both countries.

The de facto, unseen alliance between Israel, Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries is one of the most intriguing structures currently emerging amid the whirling chaos of the Middle East.

Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict (Continuum, 2011).

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
Talk about that old saying 'The enemy of my enemy...' - this is a headline you just couldn't make up.

What I see coming out of this unholy alliance is Saudi Arabia offering to fuel up the Israeli jets and allow them to fly over their country so Israel can hit Iran's nuclear sites. This solves the Israeli problem of having their planes at the very edge of running out of fuel. You may see this attack happen sooner than later if this development is true.

The Saudis have always been handy at holding our coats while we take care of the bullies that scare them.

After Israel takes care of that nasty bit of business - what then? When you sleep with hyenas you may not wake up in the morning.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Now THERE's an achievement!

After all these decades, a serious approachmon between Israelis and Arabs. And all it took was American incompetence of such staggering proportions as to leave both sides equally slack-jawed.

Tell me God doesn't have a sense of humor.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Okay, so now how is Obama going to spin this so he can take the credit for it?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (31)
All Comments   (31)
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I have been saying for a very long time that a wild Iran would create meaningful alliances in the area when needed.

Why should the US spend capital when the locals know better what is to be done and can do it?

The more Israel can make itself use the better for all concerned.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Any organization that is anti-Israel is evil, but when it comes to bloodthirsty brutality is seems to me that the Sunni radicals (the Taliban, Al Kaeda) are the worst. That said, nuclear arms in the hands even of a lesser evil is very serious. Let's hope that despite the doctrine of Islamic Supremacy, Moslem states come to realize that an non-Islamic state that is willing to live in peace with them is preferable to a powerful Islamic state that is not willing to live in peace with them.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It is nice to read analysis that seems connected to reality again.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Saudi Arabia is the locus of evil in the world. Israel will form an alliance with this satanic, ghoulish country at its peril.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It is a limited alliance. It allows Israel to join with Gulf states against Iran, and it is tied to the events in Egypt. That is, Saudi Arabia has proved to Israel, if you want to see it in this vein, that it is willing to join up with us against a common enemy - the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia sees Muslim Brotherhood as a mortal threat, and thus supports the relatively moderate Generals in Egypt. In the real world, we don't have much choice but to deal with them. And what makes it more 'okay' is that the US ran errands for the Saudis for decades - as the world's superpower. Nobody in Israel believes that Wahhabi Muslims are our friends. Until someone convinces me that an Iranian nuclear weapons capacity is not a disaster in the making, I would break bread with Saudis (but no more).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If there is one thing that Israel is NOT, it's naïve. They know full well that Wahhabaist Islam originated in Saudi Arabia and that the latter has funded it throughout the region including in Egypt. But Israel also knows that the United States and Britain formed an alliance with Stalanist Russia in World War II in order to defeat Nazi Germany which was the immediate threat. Netanyahu read Obama clearly from Day One and these workings have probably been in the irons for quite a while. Then, as soon as WW II was over, the Cold War settled in for 45 years. History repeats itself often, not exactly as before but in very similar ways. It is the way of nation states.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Poor little poutin' Saudi Arabia.......couldn't get the US to bomb Assad, who used chemical weapons against the terrorists sponsored by SA. Poor pitiful little baby....

Saudi Arabia is a festering, malignant 3rd world sh!thole that just happens to be located over an ocean of oil. But the fracking revolution will make them increasingly irrelevent, no matter who they can sucker in to protect them from mutal enemies. I feel sorry for Israel.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
re:
"I feel sorry for Israel."

Don't feel that way; it's not necessary. They know better how to take care of themselves than we do ourselves. We should listen to the seasoned Israelis.

The long term, career Civil Service Arabists in our State Department transcend temporary political administrations which come and go. Our State Department is our real problem, going back decades to the Roosevelt administration and the Cold War time of the Soviet Red penetrations, those Alger Hiss/Whittaker Chambers days. It's the Arabist 'culture" at State which needs cleansing.

Our aim today should be to survive the idiocy of this dangerously silly, busy-busy-busy group of nouveau arriviste amateurs, running in all directions at once.

Our real threat right now is ensconced in our Federal District of Columbia, enjoying their new ability to say, "Yes I Can!"
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Their rich history goes back to their origins as bureaucratic allies of the wealthy New England families who were involved in trade in the Far East, settled in Hawaii, etc. They were often deeply religious while running very profitable businesses. I'm pretty sure opium was involved in some cases. Then, during WWII State covered for all the American families and interests with investments in Nazi Germany, Bushes, Rockefellers, GM, Ford and the rest. Some were also involved covering for the Vatican and the Rat Lines taking Nazis to South America after the war. And the Dulles brothers...it's a fact that Roosevelt's Justice Dept sued Prescott Bush and his allies at the Union Bank for their trade with the Nazis, though it went beyond that to planning Auschwitz-Birkenau with some of the Nazi partners at Union Bank. Quite a history.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"But the U.S. no longer seems such a reliable ally. So new strong and like-minded friends are needed...The absence of American leadership may well be the key factor in causing Israel and the Gulf states to draw closer."

The upside to the downside of the fact that a guy who doesn't have much liking for Israel (not to mention the U S of A) is running the ship of state in America.

"...equally vexed at the current indications of American and Western willingness to lift some sanctions against Iran in return for cosmetic concessions that would leave the core of Teheran’s nuclear program intact."

Nuclear fallout doesn't respect international borders, so threats to wipe Israel off the map (probably still in tact despite Rouhani's less obviously bellicose stance) impact the whole region.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Hopefully, the generally prevailing winds blow eastwards from Israel......so that any radioactive fallout from an Iranian attack will drift back over Arab territory. Even if they shift around, these winds aloft would shift [my un-educated guess] from drifting over Egypt to changing to go generally eastwards.

This could be what is prompting Arab anxiety against their traditional Persian enemy, and suggesting quiet cooperation between the Saudi Arabs and the Israelis.

Doubtless, there are uncountable complications for everybody....but if the prevailing winds aloft are generally eastwards, the Iranians themselves might be "hoist on their own petard".

When we bombed Nagasaki and Hiroshima, most of the lingering radioactive fallout was drifted out over the Pacific from very high altitude; any "hot rain" coming down before it reached Hawaii.

The media should be careful in discussions of nuclear explosions. I suspect that there's still a lot of unintended consequences attached.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The downwind area that was most affected by American nuclear detonations was near St. George Utah.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"After Israel takes care of that nasty bit of business - what then? When you sleep with hyenas (KSA) you may not wake up in the morning".

KSA is a fairly toothless and somnolent hyena. Unlike the Iran Axis and the Turkey/MB Axis, the KSA establishment does not seek revision of the world order. They merely seem to desire a tranquil world order in which they can enjoy their oil riches.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Great! All it took was a blundering incompetent US president.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I was wrong . . . Obama has accomplished something.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This is a national disgrace. Humiliating. Israel and Saudi Arabia teaming up to address a common threat; a threat exacerbated by the good old USofA. I want to hang my head right now.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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