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Is Israel arming in Saudi Arabia?
By BENJAMIN JOFFE-WALT
06/27/2010
Reports claim IAF helicopters were preparing an attack on Iran
 
Israel Air Force aircraft dropped off large quantities of military gear at a Saudi Arabian military base a week ago, in preparation for a potential attack on Iran, a number of Iranian and Israeli news outlets have reported.

The unconfirmed report, first published by the semi-official Iranian news agency Fars and the Islam Times Web site, claimed that on June 18 and 19, Israeli helicopters unloaded military equipment and built a base just over 8 km. outside the northwestern city of Tabuk, the closest Saudi city to Israel, located just south of Jordan. All civilian flights into and out of the city were said to have been canceled during the Israeli drop-off, and passengers were reportedly compensated by the Saudi authorities and accommodated in nearby hotels.

The claim follows a report two weeks ago in the London Times Magazine that Saudi Arabia had given Israel permission to fly through a narrow corridor of airspace in northern Saudi Arabia so as to shorten the flight time required for Israeli jets to reach Iran. The Times said that Saudi Arabia had adjusted its missile defense systems to ensure that Israeli jets are not shot down while passing through Saudi airspace on the way to an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Citing an anonymous American defense official, the report claimed that Mossad director Meir Dagan had been in contact with Saudi officials and briefed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the plans.

Saudi Arabia has adamantly denied it will allow Israel to use its airspace to attack Iran.

Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf told the London-based Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat that it would be “illogical to allow the Israeli occupying force, with whom Saudi Arabia has no relations whatsoever, to use its land and airspace.”

Earlier last week, Arab media outlets reported that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had canceled a series of military cooperation agreements with Israel after Israel’s assault on a flotilla of Gazabound ships, which ended in the death of nine Turkish activists. The military agreements would have allowed Israeli jets to fly through Turkish airspace to Georgia and on to Iran.

Also last week, Egyptian sources told London-based Al- Quds Al-Arabi that an American fleet consisting of 11 frigates and an aircraft carrier, believed to be the nuclearpowered aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, passed through the Suez Canal from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. Eyewitnesses told the paper that an Israeli frigate was among the passing ships and that Egyptian authorities had suspended all commercial boat traffic in the canal for several hours to enable the fleet to pass. Thousands of Egyptian soldiers and two helicopters were reportedly deployed to the area during the passage.

“Obviously there is much fear in the Arab world, and a clear understanding in Saudi Arabia as well as in Israel that a nuclear Iran is a great threat,” said Dr. Ephraim Inbar, director of the Begin- Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Ramat Gan.

“This brings us together on a strategic level in that we have common interests.

Since the Arab world and Saudi Arabia understand that President Obama is a weak person, maybe they decided to facilitate this happening,” Inbar said.

“That said, I don’t think the Saudis want to burden themselves with this type of cooperation with Israel,” he said.

“They are afraid of Iran and if the Israeli action is not successful they would be vulnerable to Iranian retaliation.”

“It’s interesting that the news first came from Iran,” Inbar added. “Maybe it’s a warning [from Iran] to Saudi that we know what you are doing and we are not happy about it. It’s also possible that Saudi Arabia let the news out as a warning to America that if you don’t do something, we will.”

Dr. Eldad Pardo, an expert on Iran at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, argued that there was growing support in the Arab world for an Israeli attack on Iran.

“If there is military collaboration between the Israelis and countries that are officially in conflict with Israel, both sides would be sure to keep it secret,” Pardo said. “However, as the Iranian nuclear project becomes more dangerous and the regime becomes less tolerant, more and more people across the Middle East are ready to collaborate their efforts to block this project.

“That makes Israel just one player in a much larger military, economic and political effort,” he continued. “There are clearly an intensifying set of signals towards Iran that it’s not just Israel that means business. We saw it in the sanctions, which the United Arab Emirates just joined, in the quick reaction to the Turkish offer to act as a gobetween to resolve the nuclear dispute, in the Russian decision not to sell the S-300 missiles to Iran and the fact that Arab countries have not come out against reports of a new Israeli satellite and new Israeli military equipment.”

While many regional military and geopolitical analysts believe the reports of secret Israeli-Saudi military cooperation, others view such claims with intense skepticism.

“Everything is a bluff,” said Dr. Guy Bechor, head of the Middle East program at Herzliya’s Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy.

“What war with Iran? Do you believe every little report you read? It’s all a bluff.”

“These reports are just pure fantasy and have no foundation,” said Dr. Mustafa Alani, director of security and defense studies at the Dubaibased Gulf Research Center.

“The Saudis will never be part of a military action against Iran, never mind an Israeli attack on Iran.

“You have to remember that the Saudis made lots of protects when Israel used their airspace to attack the Iraqi reactor,” Alani said. “Since then the Saudis have enhanced their capabilities to defend their airspace.

“Furthermore, the Saudis are not needed and there would be no technical military reason for such cooperation,” he claimed. “The Americans can attack Iran without embarrassing all these Gulf states, not just Saudi Arabia.”

Shafeeq Ghabra, an expert on Gulf geopolitics, a professor of political science at Kuwait University and the founding president of the American University of Kuwait, argued that an attack on Iran was not in Saudi interests.

“It would be impossible for the Saudis to allow an Israeli attack on Iran,” he said. “For Saudi[s] to cooperate with a regime that is occupying Jerusalem, laying siege to Gaza and building settlements in the West Bank would undermine justice in the way the Saudis see it. It would also basically be allowing one nuclear power to attack another country that wants to be nuclear.

“Saudi Arabia will not stand for a military showdown because more than anyone else they know that this will bring chaos to the region, increase radicalization and terrorist activity,” Ghabra said.

“That is not in Saudi Arabia’s interest and quite frankly it’s not in Israel’s interest either.”

The IDF and the Foreign Ministry both declined to comment on the reports.
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