Quietly, Israel and the Gulf States Draw Closer Together

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.