saudi crown prince.
(photo credit: AP)
A flurry of reports regarding purported meetings between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Saudi officials suggests new avenues are being considered for dealing with the Iranian threat.
But while mutual concerns over the spread of Iranian influence offer the possibility for coordination with Arab players otherwise hostile to Israel, such coordination must be kept highly discreet to be viable, according to a leading Israeli expert. And the publicity this time has already caused damage, he said.
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"In principle, there are mutual interests between Israel and Saudi Arabia," said Dr. Guy Bechor, head of Middle Eastern Studies at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
"Both countries see Iran as a mutual enemy," he said, even though Saudi Arabia does not publicly portray Iran as a threat. "If Iran were to be attacked, Saudi oil fields could be a potential target. The Saudis are also worried that Iran may support terrorist activities in Saudi Arabia," he said.
Saudi coordination with Israel peaked during the war in Lebanon, said Bechor. "Saudi Arabia saw the Syrian support for Hizbullah, they saw the Arab streets supporting Hizbullah, and [they] reacted."
The increased influence of Shi'ism, Hizbullah and Iran on general Arab society is another source of concern for Sunni-dominated countries such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
"This situation may motivate these countries to pursue an alliance with Israel. But this must be done secretly," said Bechor, because there is little public support in Arab societies for coordination with the Jewish state.
"The leaked reports [in the media here] from the Israeli side are very harmful. They may prevent future coordination," he said.
Bechor said that even for Saudi King Abdullah, who has taken a very active role in this respect compared to his predecessor, any publicity regarding cooperation with Israel threatens the viability of such an alliance.
"What Arab leader will conduct secret meetings with Israel when the story appears only 10 days later on the cover of an Israeli daily? These leaks may achieve political gains in Israel but they harm the greater good, the opportunity for coordination," said Bechor.
Bechor suggested that the United States develop an alliance between Sunni regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and the Palestinians, to create a behind-the-scenes, "quiet" forum for coordination with Israel.