New Allies: Israel and Saudi Arabia?

Former Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that Sunni Arab countries and Israel face the same threat of a nuclear Iran.

Netanyahu and Saudi King Salman (photo credit: REUTERS)
Netanyahu and Saudi King Salman
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The times are changing in the Middle East as alien nations find common ground in a bid to avert Iran supremacy within the region. Thrown into the mix is the strong international desire for the ousting of Syrian leader Assad. The opening of the dialogue between Israel and Saudi Arabia is perhaps the most significant shift in the region. There have been no diplomatic ties between the two nations, with Saudi Arabia has been a supporter of Palestinian sovereign rights.
A more open relationship has not come overnight, however, with the two nations having shared intelligence on enemies within the region, including Iran. Both nations hold a common view on Iran and its rise to power within the region. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have a common ally in the U.S and the acting president also shares a similar view on Iran. In recent years, there has been plenty of reports about Israeli-Saudi relations.
One particular article claimed that the Saudis had run tests on bringing down air defense systems to provide the Israeli Air Force a path of least resistance to Iran.
Just this summer, former Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that Sunni Arab countries and Israel face the same threat of a nuclear Iran.
News of a secret visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Israel in September suggests that the need for stronger ties is ever increasing. Adding to the media frenzy over the possible opening of diplomatic relations between the two nations was news of Kushner visiting both countries last month. Kushner is Trump’s chief Middle East adviser. The U.S administration is keen to see Israeli-Palestinian talks resume and for relations between Israel and Arab nations to improve.
A great divide in the Middle East may be on the horizon as Israel and the U.S may well become a significant force behind the split. A rebalance of power is seen as a must and how Congress deals with the Iran – U.S nuclear agreement will be considered a key step in the process.
How could it affect Israel? For Israel, the benefits are significant and finding allies across the Arab world will be considered key in dealing with the old foe. The Shi’a-Sunni divide is never greater and any prospect of nuclear capability on either side of the divide is a chilling one.
Just this weekend Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned over fears for his life.
Hariri accused Iran of instilling fear and destruction within the region. The anti-Iran sentiment is building and while the divide will become ever greater, the moves by the Saudis and Israel are likely to bring greater strength to the Arab world supported and armed by the U.S in an effort to fight off Iranian supremacy.
According to Global Firepower’s military strength rankings for this year, Turkey sits at the top of the Middle Eastern rankings. Egypt comes in second, with Israel third and Iran fourth, followed by Saudi Arabia and Syria ranked fifth and sixth respectively.
The greatest concern within the region will be the improving relations between Turkey and Iran. Turkish President Erdogan has made several visits to Tehran of late and the Iranian government has been keen to promote improving ties. Of particular concern will be the military cooperation between the two and how events unfold in Syria, where the two currently support opposite sides.
As the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 continue to bring instability to the region, the U.S administration and its allies place Iran at the heart of the issue. It is estimated that Iran has managed to recoup close to $100bn in frozen assets since the removal of sanctions this year. That’s a sizeable sum of money to build military strength, whilst also boosting its economy. Economic prosperity will provide Iran with even greater strength within the region, whilst Iran is also said to have the greatest missile capabilities within the region.
Israel and the Saudis certainly have an incentive to manage Iran’s prominence and the country’s allegiances. With the Middle East having more than half of the world’s oil reserves, the U.S is also ever-present, as is Russia who has also taken a greater interest.
While the U.S may not be one of the major importers of oil from the Middle East, oil price stability is key. Additionally, U.S allies remain heavily reliant upon Middle Eastern supply, particularly nations such as Japan and South Korea.
For Israel, normal relations with the Sunni world and the Saudis, in particular, would be significant. From a political perspective, the common goal of pinning back Iran’s progress is clear. For the Saudis, they have frequently played down news of closer ties with Israel. Concerns over a backlash from the Arab world continue to leave talks almost clandestine in nature. There is also the possibility that Congress goes ahead and ratifies the Iran – U.S nuclear agreement, though some may consider fresh sanctions a greater threat to regional peace.
Economically, closer ties are unlikely to be of much benefit to the Saudis. It may provide some comfort to Israel however, who imports a significant portion of its energy requirements and the relations with Saudis can significantly decrease oil prices as well as gasoline. With the Saudis the biggest spenders in the region on weaponry, trade channels will likely continue to evolve. The benefits to Israel from growing relationships with the west is not just going to be a political one, but also an economic one.
Israel can afford seeing its access to energy supply strangled, let alone continue to remain an isolated state in the hotbed of the Middle East. Israel’s diplomatic offensive is up and running. As Netanyahu talking of a possible peace for a land deal with the Palestinians, progress may well be on the horizon. A united Sunni-Arab front with Israel as an ally may begin to stabilize a region that looks to be on the verge of collapse. How Iraq evolves and to which side of the Shi’a-Sunni divide it veers may also be pivotal on what lies ahead.