Israel and Saudi Arabia – when rogue states combine

A quietly emerging correspondence of interests has resulted in an alliance of seemingly unlikely partners, Israel and Saudi Arabia. This combination, while powerful, has suffered a stinging defeat.

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Rove McManus, the talented Australian comedian and TV personality, used to host a comedy segment on his TV program called “What The….?”. He would select rather bizarre, unusual or freakish episodes of behaviour of celebrities, or ludicrous examples of eccentric conduct by actors, and invite the audience to express its incredulity and disbelief with the expression “What The…?”. We can all think of examples of outlandish or peculiar behaviour by TV and film actors which invite us to express our shock and disbelief at their eccentricity, behaviour far removed from the usual social norms that govern the conduct of the 99 percent. However, it is not only in the world of film and television where we can experience “What The….?” moments. In the area of global politics, seemingly opposite entities can engage in conduct that while initially appearing extraordinary, is actually motivated by basic economic and political interests.

Consortiumnews is an online magazine dedicated to independent investigative journalism, exposing the hypocrisies and crimes of US imperial power. On December 4, 2013, the magazine published a story about the Middle East with the following headline; “Saudi-Israeli Alliance Boosts Al-Qaeda”. Wait a minute….”Saudi-Israeli alliance?”…..’boosts Al-Qaeda?”…..What The….?? It beggars belief that two states that are diametric opposites would be cooperating on major international issues. A fundamentalist and exclusively Jewish state, cooperating with the hard-line Wahhabi Islamic state of Saudi Arabia? Surely this cannot be right.

After getting over the shock from the apparently unbelievable content of the headline, and digging deeper, one can find that such an alliance does indeed exist, and has been very active over the last few years. The entire article, written by Robert Parry, examines the strategic geopolitical interests that have converged to bring Israel and Saudi Arabia together, if not in open embrace, then at least through channels of secretive cooperation. In August 2013, Robert Parry, the founder and senior editor of Consortiumnews published the interesting article ‘The Saudi-Israeli Superpower’ which elaborated on the growing interconnection between the two historically different states now seeking an alliance of convenience based on mutually agreed political interests. The ongoing Syrian civil war and the military coup d’etat of July 2013 in Egypt have brought to light a burgeoning, not-so-unusual alliance in the Arab world; the strategic cooperation of the Israeli state and Saudi Arabia. An alliance consisting of military clout, political power and financial backup, this cooperation has witnessed an intersection of interests. While the Israeli and Saudi states are the pillars of this alliance, the other Persian Gulf petro-sheikhdoms, and Jordan, all play a supportive role in this drama.

As Robert Parry explains in his article;

The potential impact of this new coalition can barely be overstated, with Israel bringing to the table its remarkable propaganda skills and its unparalleled influence over U.S. foreign policy and Saudi Arabia tapping into its vast reservoir of petrodollars and exploiting its global financial networks.

Implacable hostility to Iran

What immediate concerns have brought together this apparently odd couple? Both view Shia Islamic Republic of Iran as the main enemy, and have been busy lobbying American, European and other governments to take a tough line against Tehran. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have whipped up fears of the non-existent Iranian nuclear weapons programme to mobilise political and economic support for a military strike against that country. While the European states, the US and Iran were negotiating the now-established Geneva accords on curbing aspects of the Iranian nuclear programme, Saudi and Israeli officials were busy making plans for a military attack on Iran, should a deal have failed to materialise. Both have been agitating for harsher sanctions against Iran, and were disappointed with moves by the United States and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for rapprochement.

Both Israel and Saudi Arabia worked overtime to try and scuttle any possible agreement between the P5 + 1 states – the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – and the Iranian regime regarding the latter’s nuclear capabilities. The deal reached between the relevant parties represents a serious defeat for the Israel-Saudi alliance. The latter deployed increasingly hysterical rhetoric, and used their widespread ‘soft power’ connections inside the US and other governments to attempt to sabotage any kind of agreement. As Robert Parry explained in one of his many articles on the emerging Israel-Saudi alliance, both powers bring their complementary strengths to the table;

Saudi oil billionaires can reach into both Wall Street boardrooms and the corporate offices of Texas energy giants, while Israel has unparalleled lobbying power with Congress and can deploy its network of neoconservative propagandists to shape any American foreign policy debate.

However, this time, their wishes were not fulfilled. While the Saudi regime had a temper tantrum over the failure of the US to be swayed, the interim agreement with Iran represents a severe rebuff to the Zionist lobby in the US, and the concessions that Iran offered, albeit under economic duress, do represent a lessening of tensions and the threat of immediate war has receded. The fact that the deal was reached does not mean that it is fair or equitable to the Iranians. The latter have been suffering under a regime of punitive sanctions and were forced to give up a great deal just to secure some minimal relief from a crippling economic embargo. There was very little reciprocity in the terms of this deal. As Professor Ismael Hossein-Zadeh explained in his Counterpunch article;

Deprived of more than half of its oil exports/revenue, and largely locked out of the international banking and/or trade system, the Iranian economy and its people are already gravely suffering from the ravages of economic sanctions.

Under such pressing conditions, sections of the Iranian elite were looking to compromise and reach an interim deal. But the fact that the Israel-Saudi Arabia connection was working to sabotage even such an unjust arrangement represents how far they will push tensions to the point of even threatening a wider regional war. High level political figures in the Israeli establishment were even considering launching a bombing campaign against Iran should an agreement be reached between the P5 +1 and Iranian states. There were some voices in the Israeli establishment opposed to a unilateral strike against Iran – Gabi Ashkenazi, former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff for one; Shimon Peres, the Israeli President for another. However influential, they could not drown out the shrill rhetoric of the war hawks in Tel Aviv. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia, motivated by implacable hostility and hatred for any regional challenger, were pushing for a violent outcome with Iran – that outcome has been averted for the time being. This confederation of rogue bedfellows had hoped that spreading around the limitless Saudi and Arab-monarchy petrodollars, plus louder and more shrill neoconservative and Zionist voices in the US Congress would undermine any US-Iranian reconciliation – it did not work.

Aversion to the Arab Uprisings

Another area where both states find that they converge is their combined wariness of the political forces and social movements unleashed by the Arab Awakening, normally understood by the misnomer ‘Arab Spring’. Jordan is the principal contact between Israel and Saudi Arabia, being heavily dependent on the financial generosity of the petro-monarchies of the Persian Gulf, particularly the regime in Riyadh. Jordan has maintained close military contacts with Israel since signing a peace agreement in 1994.

The emerging nexus between Tel Aviv and Riyadh was further in evidence during the recent upheaval caused by the Egyptian military’s coup d’etat against the former Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi. Saudi Arabia is providing lavish finances for the militarist regime, and Israel deployed its considerable political resources in Washington to lobby the Obama administration not to oppose the coup; in fact, the US steadfastly refused to describe the ousting of former President Morsi as a coup. Israel’s position has improved significantly with the removal of Morsi, and the consequent isolation of the Israeli-blockaded Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian government of Hamas in the Gaza Strip has suffered a reversal of fortune with the ousting of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

It is interesting to note that the royalist, theocratic dictatorship of Saudi Arabia, along with its Persian Gulf partners, is solid allies of the violently secular dictatorship of the current Egyptian President General al-Sisi.

The Syrian imbroglio

Cooperation between the two rogue states also extends to the Syrian civil war. The Syrian regime, a long-term benefactor of the Hezbollah party in Lebanon and the only Arab ally of Iran, faces an insurrection increasingly dominated by Saudi-funded Islamist militants. Israel and Saudi Arabia view the Syrian regime as part of a ‘Shia Crescent’ blocking the onward advance of the pro-American Sunni monarchies. The toppling of Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite from the Shia denomination of Islam, and the growing sectarian nature of the Syrian conflict, does not unnecessarily perturb the Tel Aviv regime. In fact, the Syrian government’s long-standing support for the Hezbollah party, the latter having defeated Israeli forces in 2006 and driving them out of Lebanon, would be cancelled by the victory of Saudi-backed Sunni insurgents.

Michael Oren, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States until September 2013, stated that the Saudi Arabian plan to destabilise and eventually overthrow the Syrian regime is something the Israeli leaders can agree with. The removal of the Iranian-backed Assad regime would be welcomed by Tel Aviv, and its replacement with Saudi-supported militant regime, while not the best outcome, is the preferred option. To quote Oren from Consortiumnews;

“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren told the Jerusalem Post in an interview. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.”

It is true that the Ba’athist regime in Damascus maintained an armed truce with the state of Israel for more than forty years. Syrian troops did not actually do battle with Israeli forces at any time since the 1967 war, when Israel seized (and still occupies) the Golan Heights from Syria. While both sides intervened in the Lebanese civil war of the 1970s and 1980s, neither side directly engaged in combat against each other. As late as May 2013, Israeli officials were publicly declaring that they preferred Assad to remain in power, with the fear of an Islamist takeover dominating concerns in Tel Aviv. However, now with the Israeli-Saudi tag team in action, Israel is utilising its considerable political propaganda networks to encourage the United States (and other imperialist countries) to directly intervene in Syria on the side of the Saudi-backed insurgents.

One of the key players in enabling this new alliance to function is the Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, a mysterious figure involved in all sorts of murky affairs, currently head of Saudi intelligence and an intimate fellow traveler of the Bush family. His connections with the United States are legion and extensive, ranging from business interests to high-level political connections. He has been instrumental in cultivating the axis of cooperation between his regime and the state of Israel. The Likudnik-House of Saud axis of terror, according to veteran journalist Pepe Escobar, is sponsoring Sunni fundamentalist insurgents and providing political support for those groups, exacerbating the Sunni-Shia divide in the Arab and Islamic countries. Bandar is a cunning, long-term and wily political operator who knows how to use petrodollar-bribery and threats in turn to persuade his counterparts to adapt to Saudi strategy.

In July 2013, Bandar met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss, among other things, the situation in Syria. Bandar and his Saudi colleagues were pushing for full-scale and direct American military intervention in Syria, and he was trying to shore up support for another American-led imperialist regime change war. The Israeli-Saudi axis had been agitating for direct American and European military intervention in Syria, and Bandar was hopeful that the Iranian-allied Syrian regime would soon fall. Bandar met Putin to convince the latter to drop support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad. What transpired in the meeting reveals the character of the Israel-Saudi network.

According to Robert Parry in his article “Israeli-Saudi Alliance Slips into View”, Bandar made a not-so-subtle threat that should Putin adhere to the Saudi position on Syria, the upcoming 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics would not be targeted by Chechen militants controlled by Riyadh;

Amid Bandar’s calls for Russian cooperation with the Saudi position on Syria, Bandar reportedly offered guarantees of protection from Chechen terror attacks on next year’s Winter Olympic Games hosted by Russia in the city of Sochi. “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year,” Bandar reportedly said. “The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us.”

Putin refused to be intimidated, rejected the bribes offered by Bandar, and worked towards rejecting a joint American-British military intervention in Syria. Russian diplomacy, combined with public opposition to another imperial war after Iraq and Afghanistan, stymied moves by the American and British administrations for war in Syria. It is interesting to note that, quoting from Robert Parry again;

“Bandar’s Mafia-like threat toward the Sochi games – a version of “nice Olympics you got here, it’d be a shame if something terrible happened to it” – failed to intimidate Putin. Indeed, I was told that Putin’s anger fueled his decision to intervene in the Syrian crisis to head off a threatened U.S. military strike designed to “degrade” the Syrian military.”

The rejection of another American military intervention, this time in Syria, by the international community represents another serious defeat for the Israel-Saudi Arabia alliance. Prominent members of the Saudi royal family were fuming that their latest drive to war in Syria was rebuffed by the Obama administration. However, influence-peddling is the main characteristic of the Saudi-Israeli network, its soft power reaching into corporate boardrooms and political offices. Buying and selling political influence, lobbying and public relations are what the proponents of this dark alliance do best.

Rogue states operate by using underhanded means, and flout international law. They subvert the democratic process, and exploit divisions for advantage. The Sunni-Shia split is being used judiciously to create a sectarian reordering of the Middle East. As Stephen Lendman explains, Israel and Saudi Arabia seek to install controllable vassals, Arab proxies that can be bent to their will. If we fail to heed the lessons of history, we are bound to repeat the tragedies that occurred.

The House of Saud, with the backing of the Reagan administration of the 1980s, bankrolled a number of Sunni fundamentalist groups to fight against a Communist, secular state in Afghanistan. Hailed as freedom fighters by the Reagan government, the various groupings of Afghan mujahedeen formed the bases of what later spawned fanatical outfits like Al Qaeda. In the 1990s, the Islamist groups began targeting the United States. Israel and Saudi Arabia, the best of “frenemies” to use an internet meme, are doing their best to fund, train and politically support armed Sunni fundamentalist groups that will one day become roving guerrillas.

The first step in a long-term solution would be for America to actually leave the Middle East. After a decades-long ‘war on terror’, American policy in the Arab and Islamic worlds lies in ruins. It has brought nothing but misery and suffering to the people of those countries. Israel and Saudi Arabia have consistently partnered with the US in enabling, aiding and abetting American crimes. Criminal alliances need to be broken.

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