A credible military threat against Iran coupled with a tough Western diplomatic stance is the best way to weaken the impact of the resumption of diplomatic relations between Tehran and Riyadh, a senior Israeli official told reporters over the weekend.
“The stronger the Western position will be, the more clarity there is that action will occur or that there is a credible military threat to Iran... the less significant I think this relationship or these relations will be, to say the least,” the official explained on Friday.
The official spoke in response to the Iranian-Saudi Arabian deal reached earlier that day to reestablish relations after years of hostility that had threatened stability and security in the Gulf and helped fuel conflicts in the Middle East from Yemen to Syria.
The deal, brokered by China, was announced after four days of previously undisclosed talks in Beijing between top security officials from the two rival Middle East powers.
Israeli politicians immediately expressed concern as the move appeared to throw a monkey wrench in one of Netanyahu’s new government’s chief policy initiatives – to normalize ties with Saudi Arabia.
Israel has presumed that the necessity of creating a Gulf alliance between Israel and its Arab partners against Iran, would help provide an incentive for the establishment of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state.
“Countries in the world and the region are watching Israel in turmoil over the dysfunctional government that is engaged in systematic self-destruction.”Former prime minister Naftali Bennett
Former prime ministers Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett immediately warned of its implications for Israel’s strategy against Iran as they used the moment to attack Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in Italy when news of the deal broke.
The rapprochement signals the “collapse of the regional defense wall that we started building against Iran,” Lapid said, adding that it “reflects the complete and dangerous failure of the Israeli government’s foreign policy.”
Former prime minister reacts
“This is what happens when one deals with legal insanity all day instead of doing one’s job against Iran and strengthening relations with the United States,” Lapid said.
The senior Israeli official, however, blamed the governments of Lapid and Bennett for the Iranian-Saudi rapprochement, noting that talks toward the agreement had begun already last year when they were in power.
Negotiations for this deal “started about a year ago, with a round of at least five meetings, including the arrival of senior Saudi officials in Iran” and Iranian visits to Saudi Arabia in return, the official said.
It’s possible that at the time the Saudis felt that the Israeli stand on Iran was not strong enough, the official speculated.
The Saudis felt that “the West’s position towards Iran was weak,” particularly in the aftermath of Tehran’s armed drone attack against Saudi oil fields coupled with talks to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Israeli official explained.
Western countries have toughened their positions against Iran, but it’s still not strong enough, the official said.
The official didn’t want to talk about contacts that were happening behind closed doors but noted that Israel’s basic policy positions have not changed.
Bad for Israel, bad for the world
An Israeli official told Iran International that Tehran’s agreement with Riyadh was not a surprise and that Israel did not believe the deal impacted its pursuit of normalizing ties with Riyadh.
Bennett, however, called the news of the renewed Iran-Saudi alliance a “serious and dangerous development for Israel” and a “political victory for Iran.”
“This delivers a fatal blow to efforts to build a regional coalition against Iran,” said Bennett.
Experts weigh in
He charged that it was a mark of the “resounding failure of the Netanyahu government and stems from a combination of political neglect with the country’s general weakness and internal conflict.
“Countries in the world and the region are watching Israel in turmoil over the dysfunctional government that is engaged in systematic self-destruction,” Bennett said, adding in this case one of those countries chose a side.
Every day of this government’s “existence endangers the State of Israel,” Bennett stated.
“We need a broad national emergency government, which will work to repair the damage,” Bennett added.
Former defense minister Benny Gantz said Netanyahu had abandoned the security of Israel and its citizens.“The enormous security challenges facing the country are increasing, and the prime minister and his cabinet are busy with a coup d’état.”
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Yuli Edelstein said the alliance was “bad for Israel and the entire free world.”
Iranian expert Danny (Dennis) Citrinowicz from the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University tweeted that the new alliance was a message to Israel that its dream of a regional alliance was not feasible and never had been.
It underscored the point that most of the countries in the region view dialogue as the best way to deal with Iran, leaving Israel as the sole country that is focused on a military option.
Analyst and former MK Ksenia Svetlova of Mitvim – The Israeli Regional Institute for Regional Foreign Policies noted on Twitter that “Saudi Arabia is normalizing relations. No, not with Israel but rather with Iran” while it has rebuked Israel publicly for its treatment of the Palestinians.
“Only two months ago, Netanyahu promised to bring peace with Saudi Arabia. We seem to be moving in the opposite direction,” she wrote.
The Wall Street Journal in an editorial published Friday blamed the Biden administration for the Iranian-Saudi deal and the fact that Saudi Arabia has yet to join the Abraham Accords, which is the vehicle by which Israel has already normalized ties with four Arab countries.
“The Journal reports that Riyadh’s conditions for joining the accords might include US security guarantees and support for a civilian nuclear program. The former is worth considering since the US would probably defend the Kingdom if it were attacked without formal guarantees. Assurances that the Iran nuclear deal is dead and that the US won’t let Tehran acquire a nuclear weapon would also help,” the Journal wrote in its editorial.
“Mr. Biden prides himself on his ability to build alliances, but he muffed it with the Saudis and our adversaries are taking advantage,” it stated.
Reuters contributed to this report