Analysis: Israel rooting for the Saudis

The new Saudi leadership role in the region could provide a counter-force to Iran absent a US force doing so.

Smoke rises from an arms depot at the Jabal Hadeed military compound in Aden March 28 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Smoke rises from an arms depot at the Jabal Hadeed military compound in Aden March 28
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Saudi-led Sunni coalition against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen has no greater supporter than – Israel.
Israel is already dealing with Iranian-supported proxies on its northern and southern borders, and views the Shi’ite country’s spread into Iraq and Yemen as worrisome, especially in conjunction with its nuclear program.
When Shi’ite Houthi rebels took Yemen’s capital in September, it sent shock waves to countries on the Red Sea, scared of Yemen becoming an Iranian hub. Besides Israel, these countries are Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti.
The new Saudi leadership role in the region, demonstrated by King Salman and his ability to put aside Sunni differences such as Qatar’s and Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, could provide a counter-force to Iran absent a US force doing so.
Analysts and a former deputy national security adviser told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that Israel’s interest lies in the victory of the Saudi alliance over the Houthis.
“Israel’s clear interest is to see a rollback of Iranian influence in Yemen. This is true also in Syria, where the fall of [Syrian President Bashar] Assad will be a blow to the Shi’ite corridor,” Prof.
Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told the Post.
“Hopefully, the Saudis and the Egyptians will be able to hit the Houthis hard and arm Sunni tribes to get rid of Iranian influence,” said Inbar, adding that “Egypt is probably ready to use its air force, navy and even some ground troops to endear themselves to their Arab banker – Saudi Arabia – and other Gulf states.”
“Iran is becoming the gravest threat while the Americans do not provide security any longer,” argued Inbar.
Writing in The Washington Times, Daniel Pipes, the president of the Middle East Forum, said that the way the Arabs have united to counter Iran demonstrates that they do not see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the most pressing priority in the region.
Even though the Arabs joined forces on three occasions (1948- 49, 1967 and 1973) against Israel, “they did so at cross purposes and ineffectively,” wrote Pipes. “How striking, then, that finally they should coalesce not against Israel but against Iran.”
Asked if the Arab alliance is likely to show more fractions and disagreements as the operation develops, Pipes told the Post, “The Saudi-led bloc is quite solid because it has been in place for some years now.
Short of major internal change, states like those of Jordan and Egypt are likely to stay put.”
“I expect a long and inconclusive war in Yemen, one that builds on the many and long-standing tensions within that country ,” he predicted, adding that given the country’s poverty and especially its ecological fragility, “this will lead to large-scale emigration, further straining the region and Europe.”
In the past, he has warned that besides political instability, mass emigration could be stimulated by water scarcity and hunger.
The best scenario for Western and Israeli interests in Yemen, in his opinion, is “that the Saudi- led coalition prevail.”
Asked why he takes a different position than he does on Syria, where he supports a stalemate, Pipes said that for now there is no Turkish involvement in Yemen.
Chuck Freilich, a senior fellow at the Belfer Center of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a former deputy national security adviser in Israel, reiterated what he told the Post in December, that Israel’s key interests in the Yemen war are preventing Iran from spreading its regional influence and ensuring Israeli navigation through the Red Sea.
However, he pointed out that a Sunni-dominated region would not be without its problems either.
Asked about the Arab coalition, Freilich was doubtful it will last, but said it could mark at least a beginning in Sunni efforts to counter the Iranian threat, since from the Sunni point of view, the US is not fulfilling its role of maintaining security in the region.