Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud walks with US President Donald Trump during a reception ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 20, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli officials have expressed concerns over Saudi Arabia’s $110 billion deal to buy ships, tanks and missile defense systems from the United States signed during President Donald Trump’s visit to the Kingdom last week.
“I’m not at peace with any arms race and the huge Saudi purchase for sure doesn’t add much to our peace of mind,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told Army Radio.
But while the massive purchase means Israel will have to engage with the US to maintain its qualitative military edge, how concerned should Jerusalem really be? Much of the Saudi hardware will be put to use in the proxy war it is fighting with pro-Iranian Houthi rebels in Yemen and to portray power against the Iranians in the Persian Gulf.
The THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system does not pose a threat and is aimed at protecting the Kingdom from Iranian missiles and there is nothing in the deal to threaten Israel’s aerial superiority, which will be increased as it takes delivery of the F-35 stealth jet – a plane the Saudis have not as yet been cleared to purchase.
In fact, Israel reportedly agreed not to come out against a previous mega arms deal between the Saudis and the previous administration, including F-15 jets, after former president Barack Obama agreed to sell Jerusalem the world’s most advanced fighter.
Riyadh’s new naval assets will modernize its aging fleet and will be used to police the Persian Gulf, while the 115 M1A2S Abrams tanks are not about to roll toward Israel’s borders.
Saudi Arabia is likely to have its hands full with Tehran’s regional ambitions for at least the foreseeable future. And while it could use its newly bought leverage with Washington to press Israel on the Palestinians, its preoccupation with Tehran means the Palestinian cause is unlikely to climb back up Riyadh’s to-do list.
At the end of the day, the deal is about countering Iranian influence – and that is a supreme Israeli interest.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Liberman have made much of the opportunities created by the confluence of interest between Israel and the Gulf states in combating Iran’s expansionism and nuclear ambitions.
“Together we can roll back Iran’s march of aggression and terror in this region, and we can thwart Iran’s unbridled ambition to become a nuclear weapon state,” Netanyahu said as he welcomed Trump to Jerusalem on Monday, adding that the president had “noted so succinctly that common dangers are turning former enemies into partners.”
Stephen A. Seche, a former United States ambassador to Yemen, told The New York Times that Israel is no longer seen in the Gulf states “in that one-dimensional term of being the occupier of Palestinian land, but rather as a potential partner against the greater evil, if you will, which is Iran.”
The Saudis and the other Gulf states, in other words, recognize the benefits of Israel to their security. Israel, too, should recognize their importance as a counterweight to Iran – the greater evil.
*** ON A personal note, after close to a decade with The Jerusalem Post
in a variety of positions, including five years as news editor of the daily paper and more than four years as editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Report
, I am resigning and this column will be my last.
Over the years, I have endeavored to put forward a contrarian position, towing neither a Left nor Right line. I hope I have succeeded in this and managed to be thought-provoking and entertaining.
Thank you, dear readers, I wish you all the best.