It’s an odd partnership, to say the least, but it’s utterly accurate to say that Israel and Saudi Arabia are happily traveling together along the same path toward a confrontation with Iran. Both countries are bitterly opposed to the growth of Iran’s influence in the region, and both take hawkish positions demanding the shutdown of Iran’s nuclear program.
For decades, in fact, Israel and Saudi Arabia—perhaps America’s two chief allies in the Middle East—have worked as a sort of “tag team” in regional affairs, agreeing to disagree (mostly) on the Palestinian issue but collaborating on many other subjects. During the Cold War, for instance, Israel and Saudi Arabia were unspoken allies against President Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, and when Egypt and Saudi Arabia fought a proxy war in Yemen in the 1960s, Israel covertly aided Saudi Arabia. So it’s no surprise, really, that Israel’s top negotiator in the talks with the Palestinians, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, proclaimed the reality of the Israel-Saudi alliance, according to Reuters:
Saudi Arabia and Israel are united in their opposition to Iran, but they cannot cooperate as long the Palestinian conflict continues, Israel’s chief peace negotiator said on Thursday.
“When you hear the Saudis talking about what needs to be done in order to prevent a (nuclear-armed) Iran, I mean it sounds familiar,” said Tzipi Livni, a former Israeli foreign minister who is leading talks with the Palestinians.
“I think that you can hear that Arabic sounds familiar to Hebrew when it comes to Iran,” she said, making a rare public linkage between the goals of Israel and Saudi Arabia, which have long been enemies and have no diplomatic ties.
She added: “In order to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon, we need to cooperate with those (who) understand that Iran is a threat to them as well.”
Recently, Saudi Arabia has expressed bitter unhappiness with the fact that the United States is talking to Iran, and the kleptocratic kingdom has also stated its extreme disasstifaction with the fact that President Obama, instead of bombing Syria, opted for a diplomatic path there, too. As I wrote earlier this week:
Saudi Arabia, which is fostering the war in Syria as part of what it sees as a regional Sunni vs. Shiite conflict, is in a major snit. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister canceled his address to the United Nations General Assembly in September, shocking UN members. Then, adding insult to injury, Saudi Arabia turned down a prestigious seat on the UN Security Council—a post the country had long campaigned for—because the Saudi rulers are upset with the UNSC and the United States over what Riyadh considers their insufficient enthusiasm for the kingdom’s Syria policy. Now, according to The Wall Street Journal and other sources, Saudi Arabia is on the verge of a fundamental break with the United States.
What’s interesting is that hardcore neoconservatives such as John Bolton are now rallying to Saudi Arabia’s cause. Commenting on the Saudi decision to reject a seat on the UN Security Council, Bolton, writing in The Weekly Standard, says rather gleefully: “Saudi Arabia has just fired a diplomatic cruise missile into the U.N.’s engine room.” (President George W. Bush vindictively named Bolton, a long-time opponent of the UN, US ambassador to the UN.) Asserting that Iran’s nuclear program is an “existential threat” to both Israel and Saudi Arabia, Bolton is effusive in his support for Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic tantrum:
The Saudis have been entirely candid: They think the Security Council is broken. For nearly three years Riyadh has watched Moscow and Beijing stymie every effort to have the Security Council weigh in against Syria’s Assad regime, while U.S. diplomacy has been inconsistent and ineffective. Weak American policies toward Iran, moreover, combined with Russian and Chinese political cover for Tehran, have largely rendered the council a bystander to the Iranian nuclear problem. Now, with President Obama yearning for a negotiated “resolution” of Iran’s nuclear weapons threat, the Saudis have snapped.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Karen Ellliot House weighs in, too, justifying the Saudi snit as a logical response to Obama’s commitment to diplomacy on Syria and Iran. She writes:
Today, the Saudis find themselves alone regarding Syria, trapped in a proxy war with Iran, their religious (Sunni Saudi Arabia vs. Shiite Iran) and political enemy. The Saudis had sought and expected U.S. help in arming the rebels against Syrian ruler Bashar Assad, but the military aid never materialized. Instead, last month at the United Nations General Assembly gathering, President Obama eagerly sought a private meeting with Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, to discuss its nuclear program. Mr. Obama seemed desperately grateful merely to get him on the phone.
To reach a deal with Iran, now, Obama will have to reject the advice and influence of both Washington’s Israel lobby and the Saudi lobby. But the fact is, if the United States wants to, it can easily act independently of both. Like it or not, both Israel and Saudi Arabia are dependent on the United States. Israel desperately needs the United States as virtually its sole remaining friend on the planet, and US aid is Israel’s economic lifeblood. Saudi Arabia, whose throne is increasingly vulnerable to the turmoil that surrounds it and to internal dissension against rule by its ultraconservative princelings, cannot really risk alienating the country that has protected and propped up its throne since the 1940s.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both released reports on civilian casualties from Obama's drone wars.