The Egyptian-Saudi-Jordanian bloc has given extraordinary latitude to Israel during Operation Protective Shield, according to a US Middle East expert.
Michael Doran – a senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, who previously served as US deputy assistant secretary of defense and a senior director at the National Security Council – told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that “we are witnessing the solidification of an Egypt-Saudi-Jordanian bloc to counter not only the Muslim Brotherhood, but also Iran.”
These governments “are threading a line between their strategic interest and popular Arab opinion, which supports the Palestinians,” he said.
“After more than a month of conflict, it is difficult for them to remain silent.”
Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have come out belatedly against Israel’s attacks on Hamas in Gaza in response to rocket fire, as their antipathy toward Hamas has been overshadowed of late by anti-Israel rhetoric meant for the masses.
When the war against Hamas began, these three Arab countries and the UAE were uncharacteristically silent. The New York Times ran an article highlighting this point on July 30, titled, “Arab Leaders, Viewing Hamas as Worse Than Israel, Stay Silent.”
But as the war dragged on and casualties mounted, with pictures of dead children plastered across the Arab media, it became difficult for the leaders of this bloc to continue that silence while the masses seethed in anger.
These status-quo powers are fighting to maintain their regimes’ stability against revolutionary Islamic regimes and terrorist groups.
Whether it is the Muslim Brotherhood movement; its Palestinian version, Hamas; the Islamic State; or the Shi’ite axis of Iran and Hezbollah, and its ally Syria, the states in this bloc are coordinating and aiding each other against such players.
As of late, however, the bloc has become jittery and begun to lash out at Israel.
Jordan’s King Abdullah, in an interview with the country’s Al-Ghad newspaper on Sunday, criticized Israel harshly. And in what seems like a move to placate international public opinion, his remarks were published in English on the website of the Jordanian Embassy in the US.
“The pain and suffering that we have been witnessing and living through during this aggression, which has indiscriminately taken the lives of innocent people, refutes Israel’s claims that the war is justified,” said Abdullah.
He declared that “Israel is responsible for the aggression,” and “the international community must hold Israel accountable for what it has committed.”
Justifying his country’s relative lack of condemnation until this point, the king stated, “Jordan could have easily captured the headlines during the aggression, by issuing populist statements and slogans. Instead, we have been working diligently to end the Israeli offensive.”
Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah broke his own silence three weeks into the fighting in Gaza, condemning what he said was international silence over the IDF offensive and describing the operation as a war crime and “state-sponsored terrorism.”
“We see the blood of our brothers in Palestine shed in collective massacres that did not exclude anyone, and war crimes against humanity without scruples, humanity or morality,” he said in a brief speech read out on his behalf on state television.
And Egypt’s foreign ministry said the country’s border with Gaza at Rafah remained open, despite media reports claiming the border had been closed with exceptions for humanitarian or aid transfers.
“Since Israeli attacks commenced, Egypt has been adamant in keeping the Rafah crossing open continuously and exceptionally to allow for the passage of people and humanitarian aid convoys and to receive the wounded,” said the ministry in a statement that Ahram Online cited on Sunday.
In fact, the ministry asserted, it is Israel that continues its “inhumane” blockade on Gaza. The ministry demanded that the blockade be lifted.
“From the vantage point of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, what is at stake is the very continuation of their own rule,” said Prof. Yoram Meital, chairman of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
These countries are “coordinating their political, economic and security policies – in fact, they have created a new axis whose principal purpose is to put up a united front” against the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood and the axis of Iran, Hezbollah and Syria, he said.
Importantly, Meital noted, the strategic coordination of this bloc came about at these states’ own initiative, as it runs contrary to the position of the Obama administration – at least regarding its policies in Gaza, Egypt and Syria.
Brandon Friedman, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University and a researcher at its Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, told the Post that Egypt’s economy would likely collapse without Saudi and Gulf money propping up the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
“To some degree, what is happening is that the Saudis want a strong Egypt because it helps them,” said Friedman, adding that Egypt has a strong army, “something [Saudi Arabia] does not have.”
Sisi’s visit to Saudi Arabia on Sunday was the latest demonstration of what could be described as “a strategic relationship and an important development in the region,” he said.
“At the end of the day, these are insecure regimes that are looking for friends in an unfriendly neighborhood,” stated Friedman.
Reuters contributed to this report.