While the world’s attention has been focused on the six-power agreement with Iran, collateral fallout has been taking place, both positive and negative, as a result of that diplomatic disaster.
Among them is a series of reports and rumors of an impending alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia, fuelled by their common assessment of the threats posed on the one hand by Iran and on the other by Islamic State (IS):
Confirmed are meetings between retired high-level political and military figures of the two countries in various venues as well as meetings between a still-influential retired Saudi major general and the director-general of the Israeli foreign ministry, Dore Gold. Unconfirmed but insistent reports abound of a Saudi prince who has been dispatched to Israel to improve relations between the two countries as well as negotiations involving Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt with Hamas, directed towards the implementation of an agreement for a long-term armistice between Hamas and Israel, with Hamas disarmament overseen by Israeli and Egyptian forces, in return for the lifting of the Israeli/Egyptian blockade of Gaza and Saudi financial support for the bankrupt Hamas regime.
Whether such negotiations are in fact taking place, the top Hamas leader recently met with Saudi King Salman and the Palestinian Authority (PA) certainly believes it and is mounting a propaganda campaign against any such deal because it would, in effect, represent international recognition of a separate Palestinian entity in Gaza.
There have even been commentaries in such Israeli publications as “The Jerusalem Post” that the time has come for Israel and Saudi Arabia to establish diplomatic relations, presumably followed by others of the Gulf states, such as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Of course on one hand, such an alliance would be an enormous triumph for Israeli diplomacy. But amidst all the potential celebration, a few important facts are at risk of being overlooked or underplayed:
(1) Saudi Arabia is, in many ways, the Sunni equivalent of Shi’a Iran. It is a highly repressive society in which human and civil rights are non-existent and routinely violated. In some ways it is even worse. Iran has a simulacrum of democratic procedures. Saudi Arabia has none. Saudi women are even more repressed than Iranian women, who at least are permitted to drive cars. In both regimes barbaric practices such as floggings and beheadings are routine.
(2) The Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam is in no way preferable to the Iranian version of shi’a Islam. And both are engaged in spreading their influence outside their home countries; in the Iranian case often by force; in the Saudi case peacefully, through propaganda, the building of mosques and madrassas, and so on.
This is not to say that diplomatic and security cooperation with Saudi Arabia should not be pursued and might well lead to economic, scientific and technological cooperation also. But the nature of a regime must always be kept in mind when designing cooperative agreements. Having enemies in common is an important factor tending towards agreement, no doubt, but a regime such as that of Saudi Arabia can change its policies at any moment, based on one man’s assessment of what is good for him, his tribe and his country; Caveat emptor.
Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and teaches at the Center for National Security Studies and Geostrategy, University of Haifa.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news – www.globes-online.com – on August 24, 2015
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