Netanyahu and Saudi King Salman.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah does indeed have reason to worry about signs of strengthening ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia. He expressed his fears on Thursday in a speech in which he condemned the Kingdom for normalizing relations with Israel, and doing so "for free." And indeed, there is more than a hunch in the Middle East that Jerusalem and Riyadh have begun to grow closer.
The warming of relations is interesting on the surface, but it is even more important beneath the surface. Prince Turki bin Faisal, who served as Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief from 1979 to 2001, has appeared publicly on a number of occasions with Israeli military officials and with other Israeli figures at international forums.
Anwar Eshki, a retired general and the chairman of a Saudi think tank, the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies, met with Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold and with several MKs
. He also granted interviews to several Israel media outlets. Senior Israeli officials, such as Gold and Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, have been covered in Arab media outlets
that are either owned by the Saudis or influenced by the Kingdom.
However, on a covert level, according to foreign reports, the ties being cultivated are even more fascinating. Intelligence Online reported that Israel is selling intelligence equipment, as well as control and command centers, to the Saudi security forces. Previously, it had been reported in the foreign media that the heads of the Mossad, the organization responsible for Israel's covert ties, met with their Saudi counterparts. Media outlets affiliated with Hezbollah even reported that officers from the two countries' armies had met.
Further evidence of the ties can be seen in Egypt's decision to return to the Saudis the islands of Sanafir and Tiran
at the entrance to the Red Sea, near the Gulf of Eilat-Aqaba. This agreement was finalized only after the Saudis promised to respect the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, which includes military clauses by which the island will remain demilitarized and they will not interrupt freedom of movement to and from the Port of Eilat.
In short, these multiple reports suggest that something is indeed afoot. There is no smoke without fire.
The motivation to tighten ties is common interests. Israel and the Saudis share a fear for Iran's nuclear program and Tehran's efforts to increase its influence in the region. They also both have an interest in weakening the standing of Hezbollah, "the forward headquarters" of Iran on Lebanon's Mediterranean coast. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks often of Israel's ties with the "Sunni Bloc,"
and hints that the Saudis are included in this group.
However, there is still a big difference between covert or military ties based on common interests and normalization, not to mention the Israeli-Saudi peace agreement about which Nasrallah warned. Of course, the Hezbollah secretary-general has an interest in exaggerating Israeli-Saudi ties in order to hurt the Kingdom's reputation in the Arab and Muslim world.
Despite the multitude of reports, and Nasrallah's declarations, there is no chance that the Saudis will normalize relations with Israel and establish formal diplomatic ties with the Jewish state - not as long as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process fails to progress.
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