Rami Dabbas
Rami Dabbas
Writer & Political Analyst

Should Israel be a friend of Riyadh?

Riyadh is unable to effectively defend itself on its own, and any diplomatic relationship with Saudi Arabia must be based on this fact.

The conclusion of a peace treaty with one of the leading and wealthiest countries in the Islamic world, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, was an important link in the unfinished process of the “Deal of the Century”. Many experts still think it’s worth pursuing as before. But Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a senior researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies Sadat Begin says I am not sure about that. In a recent review, it highlighted a number of weaknesses in such a strategy.

Kedar indicates a significant escalation in the fighting between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis in Yemen over the past weeks. The latter was able to regain a large area in the area of ​​the city of Ma’rib from the Yemeni government forces. The Saudi Air Force responded by bombing targets in Yemen.

In early March, ballistic missiles and drones struck the world’s largest Saudi oil loading facility at Ras Tanura, north of the Dammam port in the Persian Gulf. From this port, the Helios Ray of the Israeli businessman Rami Ungar also departed and was also attacked in the international waters of the Gulf of Oman on February 25.

The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack on the Saudis, just as they had previously done with a major strike against other targets in the kingdom in September 2019. As a result of the attack at that time, half of Saudi Arabia’s oil export capacity was blocked for several weeks. After some time, information appeared that the launch was not from Yemen, but from Iraq, and perhaps even from Iranian territory.

The latest attack was very similar to the September 2019 attack. It hit Saudi Arabia’s most dangerous and vulnerable targets, using Iranian missiles and drones, and the Houthis also claimed responsibility. It is likely that Western intelligence agencies are aware of the exact location of the launch, but they remain silent in order not to reveal the sources of their information or to embarrass the US administration seeking to return to negotiations with Iran.

Why then, did the Houthis claim responsibility for an attack on Saudi Arabia that they did not carry out? According to Kedar, there are likely two options. Tehran could have demanded that they take responsibility. Another reason is that the Houthis wanted to show their successes in order to increase support for their shares in both Yemen and abroad.

For its part, Riyadh tried to downplay the attack with a brief statement from the Ministry of Energy regarding the strike that targeted the Ras Tanura facility with a “drone from the sea” and that “the attempted attack did not result in any deaths or material damage.”

As the Israeli expert notes, three main points must be noted here. First, the statement is issued by the Ministry of Energy, not the Ministry of Defense. Secondly, I note that the attack was carried out from the sea, that is, from Iran, opposite, through the Gulf, or from ships sailing through it. Third, it is clear that Saudi Arabia does not believe in the claim of the Houthis, as their forces are located 1,000 kilometers southwest of Ras Tanura, while the sea is east of it.

It is possible that Saudi intelligence knows very well who and where it attacked the kingdom, but it prefers not to disclose this information. The fact that Saudi Arabia does not attack Iran in response to its ongoing attacks on Saudi strategic targets is a result of the balance of power between the two countries. From a military point of view, the kingdom is much weaker than Iran.

The expert notes that the ongoing attacks have not prompted Western countries, even the United States during the Trump era, to offer their protection to the Saudis. The world is ready to provide the kingdom with anti-missile and anti-aircraft systems, but it will not send air, sea or land forces to rescue it. Saudi Arabia understands the situation very well, and thus it quietly continues to be aware of the Iranian attacks. Riyadh understands the high price it will pay in the event of a direct war with Iran, and they see no point in blaming Tehran.

Israel must take attacks on Saudi Arabia very seriously, because those capable of attacking strategic targets in Saudi Arabia with missiles and drones can strike Israeli strategic targets with equal success.

But the last thing the Biden administration wants is an open war between Iran and any other country. If a military conflict breaks out, the United States will not be able to negotiate with the Iranians about a return to the nuclear deal. This Biden administration approach limits any Israeli plan to directly attack Iranian targets, and covert special operations are likely to be disaffected as well.

According to Kedar, the most important conclusion that Israel must draw from the strikes on Saudi oil facilities is that Riyadh is unable to effectively defend itself on its own, and any diplomatic relationship with Saudi Arabia must be based on this fact.

Developing Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Israel is in Saudi Arabia’s interest more than Israel, so there is no reason for Israel to sacrifice its vital interests for the sake of relations with a kingdom that fears naming the enemy by name, even when that enemy attacks it repeatedly. If the Israeli-Saudi relations are announced one day, it is hoped that there will be a “secret engagement” to ensure that Israel will in no way commit to defending Saudi Arabia from “any enemy attacking from the sea.”

On my personal side, I note that other experts, such as Ami Rojkes Dombe from Israel Defense, believe that Israel should provide its “nuclear umbrella” to Saudi Arabia and other countries in order to protect it from Iran. There is an opinion that Israel itself, as soon as possible, under any pretext, will attack Iran, until the US “renegotiates” the nuclear deal. Which of these views will prevail, we will likely find out in the period between the fourth and fifth elections in Israel.

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