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The Saudi-Israeli Alignment
Saudi Prince: Military Force Is an Option

Shocking, we know: the Saudis are none too pleased with the Iran deal, and after biting their tongues for a few days they’re letting their displeasure be known in public. The Times of London reports:

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf powers are prepared to take military action without American support after the Iran nuclear deal, a former Saudi intelligence chief has warned.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who served as ambassador to Washington for 20 years before running the country’s intelligence service from 2005 to last year, said that regional powers had lost faith in America.

“People in my region now are relying on God’s will, and consolidating their local capabilities and analysis with everybody else except our oldest and most powerful ally,” he said.

Does the “everybody” include even Israel, which shares most of the Kingdom’s concerns? It would not surprise us in the least.

It’s hard to tell at this point if this is empty talk or represents another stage in Saudi Arabia’s new and assertive foreign policy. But if the Saudis are truly determined to take an independent line on Iran, then cooperation with Israel will be necessary. Given that the opposition is joining the government in Israel in condemning the deal, Jerusalem seems also to be looking at its options.

Both countries at this point are terrified of an empowered Iran; both are furious enough at the Obama administration to make them cast about for ways to derail Washington’s Middle East agenda—or even just to damage the President’s prestige. Yet for all their rhetoric, both countries are in some ways profoundly conservative and cautious.

Both also have good reason to be wary of Iran, especially when the American protector doesn’t seem to be tilting against it anymore. One of the consequences of “rebalancing” is that the countries that have been rebalanced against tend not to like it very much. And neither Israel nor Saudi Arabia are helpless client states. Feeling abandoned, both have the capacity for independent—or interdependent—action in an increasingly volatile Middle East.

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  • Ellen

    Your last sentence is right on mark. Obama is greatly overestimating his power and significance, as usual. Netanyahu hates him, so does most of the Israeli electorate. This means the Israeli center-left cannot do what it has done in the past, which is to side with the enemies of Israel against its own right-wing government, giving those enemies local cover.

    Herzog, the leader of the center-left, is the grandson of a chief rabbi. That means something to him. He will support Netanyahu in his alliance with the Saudis and other players, including the Turks. The recent Turkish election has reduced the power and prestige of Erdogan who now looks like a declining force. Abdullah Gal, his #2 man in the AKP, looks set to change the foreign policy of Turkey to make possible an alliance with the Saudis, Egyptians and Israelis. This is critical in Syria, where the only 2 competent and proximate military forces are the Turks and Israelis. The Saudis and Jordanians will play an important symbolic and financial role, but cannot really play the key military roles. They are too weak and craven, as we have seen all too often in the past.

    There is a 6-month window, assuming the worst case scenario with the Iran nuclear deal, for this odd bedfellows alliance of Turks, Arabs and Jews, to destroy the Assad regime, humiliate Qassem Soleimani and Iran’s imperial pretensions, and to create some sort of Sunni political power in Damascus. If they succeed, soon enough Obama and his dirty little henchmen will be very “verklempt”, as they watch THEIR nightmare scenario unfold. Radical Sunni militants, include perhaps al Nusra, marching on Damascus, while the Alawites and Shiites flee into the mountains.

    They deserve this fiasco. It will discredit not only them, but Hillary Clinton who is making mealy-mouthed sounds of support for an awful deal. That should help a Republican become president and then deal with the problematic aftermath.

    • Blackbeard

      Good analysis but, sadly, I fear it assumes too much rationality on the part of the Sunnis. After 70 years of vilifying Israel I don’t think they can now bring themselves to cooperate even if, as is the case, they need Israel.

      • Ellen

        That is the main stumbling block, to be sure. They have shown themselves to be devoid of any strategic view of their very perilous situation. Even now, they are still sponsoring anti-Israel escapades in the UN, etc. If they continue down this road, they will perish. Israel will survive, because the American public still supports it, even the Obamoids don’t. But the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf will find themselves friendless and defenseless against the Iranian onslaught. We shall soon see if they have any rationality at all and any kind of survival instincts. The answer may be no, but it might be yes.

      • rheddles

        The Sauds have not faced an existential threat nor abandonment by the US in 70 years. Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully. The Sauds will find that few will mind the basing of Israeli jets on their airbases as long as they finish the Iranians off.

        • f1b0nacc1

          I was with you (or rather, with Dr. Johnson) until the last sentence. The Saudis would not survive the backlash of openly permitting the Israelis to use airbases in their territory to attack Iran, and they know this all too well. Now they MIGHT consider providing covert support (Saudi Arabia is a very big place with lots of out of the way places that could be used as COVERT airbases by the Israelis, the Saudis have access to support aircraft that could be used to help the Israelis with their attacks, and there are numerous radar and missile assets in Saudi Arabia that would be valuable to the Israelis), they would almost certainly look the other way if the Israelis passed through their airspace, and they might even consider coordinating Israeli strikes with support from their own air force as long as it was clear that they were not openly helping the Israelis. BUT, they will not, and will NEVER consider allowing the Israelis to openly use their assets in an attack on another Muslim state.
          As an entirely secondary point, you use the phrase “finish the Iranians off”…this is simply not an option. Iran is a big place, it has lots of people in it, and while a series of successful strikes against it would hurt the government seriously, it will not ‘finish it off’, nor would the Saudis (whose Royal Family is in a far more precarious position) really be interested in establishing that sort of precedent.

  • Pete

    What kind of muslim that murdered those four Marines yesterday — Sunni or Shia?

  • Dan Knauss

    Astonishing levels of naïveté here. It’s better for everyone *not* to have the stable, internationally enfranchised, capitalist powers so visibly all in bed together. It’s a magnet for west vs the west reaction. Friends will remain close and benefit while enemies are drawn closer.

    • Government Drone

      Pardon my obtuseness, but what do you mean by things being better for not having “stable, internationally enfranchised, capitalist powers so visibly all in bed together”? Are you saying it would be better if they were all at each other’s throats? The last time I recall that happening was in 1914 or so, & it stopped being fun after about 15 minutes.
      And “friends will remain close and benefit”? One of the concerns of this article is that this is precisely *not* happening, specifically with regards to the US & Israel, and the US & Saudi Arabia. We’re seeing the results of this in Syria, where the Saudis are backing folks like al Nusra, which won’t benefit Israel too much, nor make any post-war Syria any friendlier to us either.
      Perhaps Obama & his team have good reasons to seek a rapprochement with Iran to the Israelis’ & Saudis’ expense, but if so I haven’t heard any—or at least any that overrides Iran’s persistent “death to America” attitude it’s consistently held the past 35 or so years.

      • Dan Knauss

        The key is “visibly.” They’re always going to be in bed with each other, even when they are having tiffs. The more the extreme Islamic right sees this as a happy relationship, the more it encourages them to attack all three.

        The point is the Saudis and Israelis are not going to become enemies of the US just because the US starts trying to make a friend of Iran. But if Iran comes to see itself as aligning with international capitalist interests, the less belligerent it will be toward “the west,” Israel, and Islamic states that are somewhat cozy with both. The game here is about getting everyone to accept the rules of a capitalist modernity and quit freaking out about it being “western” or “zionist.”

        Iran is not defined by a consistent “death to America” attitude; I doubt any state can be so simply defined or truly consistent. You’re drawing a caricature, a bogeyman — imagine intelligence analysts working this way.

  • FriendlyGoat

    When “people in my region rely on God’s will”, then we will all dance off into philosophical ditch of Islamic nuttiness. (Prince Bandar bin Sultan only supplied the first part of that sentence, and I wrote the second half.) Israel can decide whether it wants to ally with the followers of Allah for a war—-or not. My guess is that they are going to speak in alliance and attack nothing.

  • Beauceron

    “regional powers had lost faith in America”

    Get in line. You’re behind America’s own citizens.

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