Opinion |

Saudi Arabia: Israel's Dream State

Israel is happy to let Riyadh lead the anti-Iranian alliance, but not so happy to pay the political price of real cooperation

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin SalmanCredit: Fayez Nureldine/ AFP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Israel has no better ally than Saudi Arabia. It fights Hezbollah and overthrew the Lebanese prime minister who had lived in peace with that organization for a year. There is no other country in the world, including the United States, that acts with such resolve against Iran. Saudi Arabia even went to war in Yemen, not for the Yemenis, who as far as Riyadh is concerned could die of starvation, but to block Iran’s influence.

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Saudi Arabia has warned Hamas against renewing its ties with Tehran and is pressing Washington to come out of its coma and act against the Iranian threat. It seems as if Saudi Arabia would be happy to have Israel join the “Sunni axis.” Good for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who dared to get rid of several ministers in his battle against corruption and isn’t afraid to confront the Saudi religious oligarchy.

Saudi Arabia is the dream of the Jewish state. Its behavior toward Iran makes mincemeat out of the axiom behind Israel’s security strategy, namely that all Arab states seek to destroy it, but in return Saudi Arabia reinforces Iran’s status as the ultimate enemy.

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One might expect that such an alliance with an Arab power that sees eye-to-eye with Israel regarding its greatest enemy would demand some serious consideration of Saudi interests in the Israeli-Palestinian arena; for example, to revive the Saudi peace initiative, which calls for Arab normalization with Israel in return for withdrawing from the territories. No harm would be done if Israel made a gesture toward the kingdom and offered to begin negotiating with the Palestinians on the basis of that initiative, and even invite Riyadh to mediate.

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to try to form an Arab coalition made up of Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia for this purpose. After all, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never fails to boast of the quality of the relations that he (of course, he) has managed to develop with Arab countries, even those that have no peace treaty with Israel. The alliance with Egypt is working well along the southern border and there is quiet and excellent cooperation with Jordan, while the UAE has recently become a silent partner. On the face of it, there could be no better combination of forces for the State of Israel.

The problem is that even an alliance of interests with Saudi Arabia has a fatal flaw. It requires that Israel pay too heavy a political price. Israel believes it is permitted to cooperate with Arab states against common enemies, but not in return for a chance at real peace. The enormous security and economic benefits that would derive from a diplomatic process that has the participation of anti-Iranian Arab states is apparently worthless in Israeli eyes. It prefers to pay the economic and security costs of taking care of half a million settlers, not to mention the collapse of Israeli democracy. An alliance with Saudi Arabia or other Arab states? Only if it’s free.

And thus, while Israel cheers when a ballistic missile is fired from Yemen on the Saudi capital, and celebrates the resignation/removal of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, because it sees both as incentives for intensifying the struggle against Iran, it prickles like a porcupine when anyone mentions the Saudi peace initiative. Israel is assuming that the common enemy will make the kingdom and other Arab countries forget that abomination called the peace process.

In the seven years that have passed since the Arab Spring and the three years since the Islamic State seized control of lands in Syria and Iraq, Middle Eastern alliances and coalitions have been shifting like the colors in a kaleidoscope. Those who know how to exploit opportunities, like Russia, Iran and Turkey, will gain diplomatic capital. Such an opportunity now lies before Israel. But Israel has learned the Palestinian lesson well; it never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

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