As President Obama along with the European Union succeeded in striking an excessively fragile deal with Iran, the fear of a nuclear-armed Teheran is raising the possibility of unexpected scenarios.
Despite sharing a common enemy, Saudi Arabia and Israel have never been considered as potential partners in the Middle East. The Gulf monarchy is known to have been cooperating with the United States in its war on terror and on issues of regional security. However, the Kingdom has never publicly acknowledged that its actions could in any way seek to benefit the Jewish State. The verbal animosity espoused by the Sunni powerhouse in regard to Israel on the Arab and Islamic political chessboard is well-documented. In addition, the Saudi ruling class, together with private organizations led by Saudi nationals, is a primary sponsor of terrorist networks and pressure groups attempting to destroy the Jewish State or damage its international standing.
While these facts cannot be denied, recent assertions are pointing at a possible cooperation between Israeli’s and Saudi’s military and intelligence establishments to counter the Iranian threat. They highlight a fundamental necessity in Arab strategic thinking – the introduction of strategic realism at the expense of overly zealous nationalist and religious ideologies.
In fact, since the reinstatement of Israel, Arab states throughout the Middle East have been fueled by illusionary dogmas such as Arab Nationalism, Radical Islamism and Revolutionary anti-Capitalism, which pushed them to enter into conflicts against Israel in total disregard of their most basic economic and military interests. A tangible Iranian threat along with the American choice to step away from its regional responsibilities creates a situation in which a Saudi-Israeli cooperation would effectively alter the Middle Eastern strategic balance and increase the pressure on Iran. However, the fact that the Saudi ruling class explicitly rejected any possibility of limited cooperation with Israel is instrumental in understanding a key issue that cripples any possibility of long-lasting peace in the region.
Should one take history as an example, limited military cooperation between ideologically opposed blocks in times of exceptional threats is not an aberration. The United States fought alongside the USSR to defeat the common Nazi enemy while the Prussians allied with the Brits to defeat Napoleon. The case for a Saudi-Israeli military partnership against Iran is just as strong and would in no way mean that both states enter into stable and positive diplomatic relations.
A Saudi-Israeli cooperation would benefit both countries without structurally altering the defensive and offensive capabilities of each individual nation. The Jewish State and the House of Saud could work together based on the shared threats and complementary defensive and offensive assets whose effectiveness would be increased by their partnership.
Through its foreign policy and its sponsorship of terrorist groups, Iran has been posing a continuous threat to both states since 1979. Following Khomeini’s line of thinking, all major Iranian figures have been building their personal political agenda around a discourse aiming at the destruction of the Jewish State.
While Iran does not issue genocidal threats against the Saudis, Teheran’s strategic stance is utterly confrontationist in regard to the Sunni powerhouse. The Persian religious, military and political establishments have time and again called for the direct actions against Israel. In parallel, the same officials have repeatedly insisted on the annexation of Bahrain and the uprising of Saudi Shi’a in the country’s oil rich eastern provinces. This position has led to clear and devastating policies.
The creation of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Revolutionary Guard’s support of terrorist groups operating in Syria, Iraq, Kuwait and Yemen are the most precise examples of how Iranian hegemonic views are meant to bring war to Israel while simultaneously damaging Saudi Arabia. In the Shiite revolutionary view, the massacre of Israelis goes hand in hand with limiting the power of Sunni states. A global policy seeking to damage the Jewish State’s interests throughout the world by targeting its citizens and Jewish communities lies at the heart of all the terrorist attacks originating from Iran. On the other hand, through Hezbollah and related terrorist groups, Iran has directly hit Saudi Arabia and has sponsored proxy wars meant to relatively diminish the Kingdom’s regional standing.
However, a Saudi-Israeli cooperation should not be meant to directly counter the threat generated by Iranian covert operations. A limited partnership may be envisioned together with a policy designed to limit Teheran’s possibilities to acquire or use weapons of mass destruction. For this, a two-fold strategy could be set in place in which a very limited communication between the two countries’ military and intelligence establishments would enhance both states’ offensive and defensive capabilities in regard to the Iranian threat.
Israel would benefit from such a partnership by being able to exploit the Saudi’s early detection systems acquired from the United States. Radar positions along the Gulf coast are able to diminish the time needed to detect the launch of a long range ballistic missile, thus increasing the chances of interception. In addition, if the need for a preventive strike against Iranian targets becomes tangible, Saudi assets such as northern airfields and the ability to refuel planes may be used to diminish the risks encountered by the Israeli Air Force.
In addition, Saudi and Israeli intelligence agencies would greatly benefit from limited intelligence sharing as both parties have compatible assets. Israel has more competitive signal and image intelligence capacities, while the Saudis can successfully play the human intelligence card with a strong foothold in Syria and along the Gulf.
Proposals of a cooperation between both countries should not be interpreted as a call to turn a blind eye toward the Saudi protracted support of terrorist organizations and the continued tendency to voice genocidal calls against non-Sunni Muslims by members of the Kingdom’s ruling elite. However, now that American power is faltering, Israel and Saudi Arabia need to react to a new strategic situation by pushing for a more credible military threat against Teheran.
The fact that such proposals and comments about the possible cooperation between both states are met with unconditional disapproval by the Saudi ruling class is instrumental in understanding a key issue in Middle Eastern politics. Regional relations are not and will not be governed by rational needs because they are and will be dictated by ideological constraints in the near future. While Israel may be willing to adapt to the new situation and come to comprise with long-lasting adversaries to counter the Iranian threat, Arab states are still paralyzed by their visceral hate of the Jewish State, which greatly obstructs any possible partnership.