Summary: Martin van Creveld explains the Israel – Saudi alliance against Iran. It is reshaping the Middle East. They feed propaganda to the US public about Iran so that we will support them – although we have no dog in this fight.
By Martin van Creveld.
From his website, 26 April 2018.
Posted with his generous permission.
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been saying for over a decade now, Israel considers its most important enemy to be Iran. That is good news: it means that enemies who are less than a thousand or so kilometers away no longer exist. The impressive Arab coalition which used to face Israel during its early years has long since collapsed. With some of its members, i.e. Egypt and Jordan, Israel is now officially at peace. Other enemies have been demolished either by external defeat, as happened in Iraq, or by civil war, as in Syria. Occasionally they have suffered both. Various terrorist organizations apart, this leaves Iran as the one enemy Israel has any real reason to fear.
Saudi Arabia is also worried about Iran. In part, this is because of the age-old and often bloody rivalry between the Sunni and Shi’ite sects of Islam of which Riad and Tehran are the chief representatives, respectively. In part, it is because of Iranian support for the Houthi rebellion in Yemen which threatens to put the Saudis between Scylla in the north and Charybdis in the south. And in part it is because of Teheran’s nuclear ambitions which, should they bear fruit, threaten to spark off a nuclear arms race and destabilize the entire region.
My enemy’s enemy is my friend. No wonder Israel and Saudi Arabia have got closer together than at any time since the former was established seventy years ago. Top Israeli officials have repeatedly hinted at the existence of intelligence links between the two countries. There have also been rumors about Israeli sales to the Saudis (by way of South Africa) of anti-missile technology; it may be no accident that, each time the Saudis intercept a Houthi missile fired at them, the news is prominently displayed in Israel. Other rumors point to the possibility that, should Israel decide to strike at Iran’s nuclear program, its aircraft will be allowed to make use of Saudi air space.
A letter sent by the Israeli foreign ministry to its representatives abroad, written in Hebrew and leaked to the media, instructs them to do what they can to help the Saudis in Yemen. All that explains, among other things, why Israel did not raise any difficulties when Germany sold 200 tanks to the Saudis back in 2011. Also, why it did not oppose the transfer of some small islands in the Straits of Sharm al Sheik from Egyptian to Saudi Arabian sovereignty in 2017. In trying to prevent Iran from establishing itself in Syria, Israel and Saudi Arabia have found themselves fighting on the same side.
Partly because they are afraid of Iran, partly because they think they can see the age of oil coming to an end, and partly because of internal tensions between the country’s old elite and its growing young population, the Saudis have engaged on a thoroughgoing series of reforms. Including, if all goes well, the privatization of the economy; the construction of a huge new scientific-industrial complex on the Red Sea; a relaxation of religious discipline and the opening of the country to tourism; and, not least, changes in the status of women designed to create the impression that the country is indeed trying to join the modern world.
At first sight, improved relations with Israel, aided and abetted by the United States, would fit well into the new Saudi Arabia that the latter’s de facto ruler, Mohammed Bin Salman, is trying to build. Certainly they mark a great improvement on the time when Jews, even such as were citizens of allied countries, were not admitted into the Kingdom. And when US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, though allowed to enter, had a copy of the Protocol of the Elders of Zion presented to him by King Faisal. However, there are complications. First there is the question of Jerusalem, Islam’s second most holy city which the Saudis cannot simply put aside. Second is that of the Palestinians who have now been living under Israeli occupation for fifty-one years, no less.
Recent Saudi pronouncements on the matter, such as the one by Bin Salman that Israel has the right to exist and by his father that the two countries have some common interests, appear to be seriously meant, at least at the moment. Assuming this is so, they are welcome in Jerusalem, Washington DC, and many other capitals as well. However, be warned. A change of government in Riad, or else a Saudi attempt to acquire nuclear weapons, may still lead to a change of heart on either side.
In the turbulent Middle East, anything is possible.
For More Information
Ideas! For shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon.
- Martin van Creveld: A history of the turmoil in the Holy Land (you can’t understand the action without it).
- The Fate of Israel.
- Stories about Saudi Arabia reveal mysteries of the world’s most powerful kingdom.
- Ali Shihabi explains what the media won’t about Saudi Arabia.
- Stratfor looks at the strange Saudi – Israel alliance.
Two timely books about Saudi Arabia
The Other Saudis: Shiism, Dissent and Sectarianism by Toby Matthiesen (2014).
Saudi Arabia: A Kingdom in Peril by Paul Aarts and Carolien Roelants (2015).