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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3 thoughts on “Israel and Saudi Arabia – when rogue states combine

  1. Sorry Rupen, but none of this exists. I could be wrong; if it turns out to be the case, I’ll eat my words. But here goes.

    First, you base the case of a Saudi-Israeli “alliance” almost entirely on several works by the same author, Robert Parry. I glanced through all these works. And in all of them, I didn’t find a single clear fact to demonstrate such an “alliance.” Lots and lots of circumstantial stuff, alleged coincidence of interests regarding Iran etc. Actually, if being reactionary, and separately having problems with Iran, were enough to lead to such an alliance, then it should have happened decades ago.

    About the only “evidence” offered is the recent claim of such an alliance by the Daily Telegraph. Saudi Arabia vigorously denied this report and declared it had “no relations or contact with Israel of any kind at any level” (http://world.einnews.com/article/177082808/-XymoaCc3o3Ar1OJ?afid=777&utm_source=MailingList&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Breaking+News%3A+world540-Tuesday). While it may be claimed that a Saudi denial lacks credibility, it is arguable whether or not it is less credible than some unsubstantiated claim by some British tabloid.

    As it happens, I regard the denial to be very believable in the circumstances, and the “alliance” to be impossible, as I argue, among many other (often controversial) arguments in my latest piece “The US, Iran, Russia-Syria and the geopolitical shift: Anything for the region’s oppressed?” http://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2013/12/04/the-us-iran-russia-syria-and-the-geopolitical-shift-anything-for-the-regions-oppressed/. Please have a read and consider my arguments for why I consider it impossible (btw, Tim Dobson has criticised the Iran parts of my article at https://www.facebook.com/tim.dobson.376/posts/10152117708801514. As this is a specific aspect of my article, and he has written something of substance, I intend to give him a reply of substance, but I’m mainly asking you to consider my views on the question you raise here).

    Furthermore, the line you push here, of a Saudi-Israeli “alliance” is not only not borne out by any facts in the Parry articles; even worse, you appear to take at face value the other part of the equation: that they are allied in order to boost Al-Qaida! I don’t know why you accept this patently absurd claim. I only know there is even less attempt to provide a shred of evidence.

    Let’s be clear: not only does Israel not supply Al-Qaida, and indeed regards any jihadist presence near its stolen Golan border to be a serious threat, but also Saudi Arabia does not supply Al-Qaida, an organisation whose initial reason for existence was and is the overthrow of the “apostate” Saudi monarchy; indeed, there was a full-scale insurgency against the regime led by Al-Qaida around a decade ago. If you have a shred of evidence that the Saudis perhaps opportunistically support Al-Qaida, you should supply it; I am aware of none at all. In fact, part of the Saudis’ interest in Syria is precisely to try to preempt and prevent the rise of Al-Qaida in Syria, which, when you look at a map, is actually very close to Saudi Arabia (separated only by a narrow neck of the more vulnerable Jordanian monarchy …) – while support for jihadists in Pakistan and Afghanistan (though even there, not actually Al-Qaida), and perhaps Chechnya, could be explained as keeping them occupied far away, this is the opposite situation in the Syria-Jordan-Saudi triangle.

    Ironically, one thing Saudi Arabia and Israel agree on is the prevention of a jihadist victory in Syria, as with Egypt, the Sinai and Gaza.

    On the question of Israel, the quote by Michael Oren, retired Israeli ambassador to the US, that “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,” has been bandied about all over the place, manly because the view being expressed is so unique and so therefore useful to the pro-Assad left (obviously I don’t include you in that category, but it is also useful here for your argument).

    Let’s be clear: the view of one retired ambassador is not “the Israeli view” at all. Indeed, you also note that “As late as May 2013, Israeli officials were publicly declaring that they preferred Assad to remain in power.” Is there any evidence that the officials quoted here (I haven’t opened your link but I have greatly documented a wide range of very important Israeli officials, far more relevant than retired ambassadors, from around that time) have changed their views? And likewise, if Oren is to be believed that Israel has “always” preferred Assad’s defeat, then that would cancel out these views of the officials from May, wouldn’t it? Better to see Oren’s view as Oren’s view – Israel is a free country, if you happen to be white and Jewish.

    In any case, Professor Eyal Zisser of Tel Aviv University (one of Israel’s best-known academic experts on Syria and Lebanon and the former director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies) gave an interview just now which clearly says the opposite of Oren (http://carnegie-mec.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=53831):
    “At first, Israel wanted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stay in power, thinking it was “the devil we know” and fearing the spread of chaos along the border. Then Israeli leaders came to the conclusion that Assad is finished. But then they became aware of the presence of al-Qaeda elements in Syria, like the rebel Nusra Front.
    “So now the real position—not the official one—is that we wish both sides good luck and that it is in the interest of Israel that they continue fighting. Essentially, we want Assad to stay in power. We want him to be strong enough to keep the border quiet but weak enough so he will not present any real threat to Israel.”
    Much appreciate your posts, even where I might disagree at times. In my honest opinion, regardless of political disagreements on this one, I have to say in my honest opinion that you rely here far too much on one author.
    Comradely
    Michael Karadjis

    • I take your point about relying too much on one author. However, it is not just Robery Parry that thinks a Saudi-Israeli alliance exists, so do the region’s political actors. I did not include a quote (perhaps I should have) of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitting as much, publicly stating that the Gulf monarchies have come to see Israel as more of a friend than an enemy. Israel-Saudi cooperation does go back in history, at least till the 1960s when both militarily supported the royalist Yemeni forces against the socialist Yemeni side, the latter backed by Nasser’s Egypt.

      I don’t understand why you dismiss as ‘circumstantial’ the evidence that is presented. It is not just Consortiumnews, but the Iranian press, Haaretz news and many other sources that all indicate a growing alliance of convenience between Israel and Saudi Arabia; for example here; http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13920917000790 or here; http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.558512.

      Funding and training Sunni fundamentalist groups that openly ally themselves with Al Qaeda is one major way of supporting the latter organisation. Of course there is an element of opportunism, as there always is in Saudi and Israeli policy. Creating groups that openly advocate an ultra-conservative interpretation and application of Islam does indeed provide an environment in which Al Qaeda types can flourish. Perhaps you see that as ‘circumstantial’, but then we do need to consider the circumstances in which people are operating in order to understand their political behaviour. Perhaps you would like to consider this article from the Fars News Agency, about Saudi militants fighting under the Al Qaeda umbrella; http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13920919001057

      Oren’s quote has certainly been ‘bandied’ around the internet, as are many quotes and articles. Perhaps Oren’s quote has been publicised because there is something to it – he was the Israeli ambassador to the United States, and when he talks, people listen. It is not just Parry who cites the Oren statement, so did Reuters news. AIPAC, the influential pro-Zionist lobby group, also weighed in for a limited but decisive strike against Syria.

      Of course there are conflicting viewpoints in the Israeli establishment, as I referred to such contradictions regarding the possible Israeli strike on Iran. Indeed, reputable publications like the Palestine Chronicle have also cited the Oren quote, such as in this article by associate professor of Middle East history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Jeremy Salt; http://www.palestinechronicle.com/israels-allies-deliver-a-cost-free-victory/#.UqeUrcRmh8E

      I always appreciate your comments, even where we disagree. So let’s agree to disagree on this one.

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