On Saudi Arabia, Israel Must Decide Between Interests and Values

Israel and the United States can tackle the Iran issue alone; nothing can justify the recent revelations in the murder of journalist and MBS critic Jamal Khashoggi, which show how things are truly done in Saudi Arabia

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FILE PHOTO: President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House, March 20, 2018, in Washington.
FILE PHOTO: President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House, March 20, 2018, in Washington.Credit: Evan Vucci/AP
Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens

When choosing allies for opposition to a common enemy, balancing interests against values is a perfectly legitimate issue that governments occasionally face. Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt chose to be allied with Stalin’s brutal communist dictatorship in the war against Germany. Without the participation of the Soviet Army, they would have faced an impossible task. National interests trumped stark ideological differences, and rightly so.

It’s not easy to find similar cases as clear-cut. Many alliances forged by the United States with local strongmen turned out to be mistaken. In no case did the danger posed to the United States justify setting aside ideological values for an alliance with dictators who had no respect for these values. In most cases it was no more than a marriage of convenience.

Today, after the revelations of the grisly premeditated murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the United States and Israel will have to make a choice in their relationships with Saudi Arabia, until now seen as a staunch ally in curbing the threat of Iranian expansionism and terrorism in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia, the largest and strongest Arab country, rightly saw in the current Iranian regime an implacable enemy seeking its destruction while expanding into the Middle East. It was seen in Washington and Jerusalem as a natural and valuable ally against a common enemy.

Much of what was known of the dictatorial and arbitrary governance of Saudi Arabia was conveniently ignored in light of the “national interest.” The recent revelations regarding Khashoggi’s murder, followed by what U.S. President Donald Trump has called “the worst cover-up in history,” mandates a review of this position.

At this point a call for seeking a balance between American and Israeli national interests and the blatant flouting of the ideals of law and order characteristic of Saudi Arabia seems almost bizarre. There can be no balance here. Nothing can justify the recent revelation of how things are done in Saudi Arabia, and an alliance with the Saudi rulers will impugn the moral nature of any alliance.

As for the national interest, the United States and Israel have the capacity to deal with the Iranian threat, with the help of their allies and even alone if necessary. The Iranian regime is on the verge of bankruptcy, and resolute action by Washington and Jerusalem will check its plans, and possibly bring it to its knees. Co-opting Saudi Arabia into such an alliance can only weaken such an effort, calling into question its very moral foundation.

Just because Israel is the country most threatened by the Iranian regime’s plan, it shouldn’t take a back seat in establishing such a position. Rather, it should step forward without hesitation.

It’s important for the United States and Israel to act in unison in this matter so important to both of them, with a clear position taken quickly. This shouldn’t be done under the pressure of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but at their own initiative. No further Turkish evidence is required. What needs to be known to justify such a decision is already known; there’s no need to wait.

Such a decision may expedite the changes so obviously called for in Saudi Arabia. That may be a side benefit. There will be a cost for procrastination. Doubts and reservations will surface and spurious compromises will be proposed. An ensuing endless debate will becloud the basic issue. Clear action is needed now.

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