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Israel And Saudi Arabia Vs. Iran

Israeli Foreign Ministry Preparing Worst Case Scenario Options On Nuclear Iran & Unilateral Declaration Of Palestinian State

Israel's Acquiecence In Gigantic U.S. Arms Sale To Saudi Arabia Signals Jerusalem & Riyadh May Be allied Against Common Enemey Of Iran

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Riding Political Seesaw Between Israel's Relations With U.S. & Right-wing Coalition Pressure

There may be more than meets the eye behind the monumental U.S. arms sale of $60 billion to Saudi Arabia. IsraCast analyst David Essing assesses some of the possible ramifications against the backdrop of what could be a silent shift of some of Israel's strategic security considerations from Turkey to the Gulf. But there is still a fly in the ointment. In order for such a shift to jell there is a need for at least a semblance of progress on the Israeli- Palestinian track in order to placate public opinion in the Arab world. On the domestic scene, President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, two of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's strongest supporters have been urging Netanyahu to accept a U.S. request to extend the settlement freeze in the face of stiff opposition from the Right-wing coalition.

 The whopping U.S. arms sale worth $60 billion dollars to Saudi Arabia marks a new milestone in the Middle East. Over a year ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled the idea of a 'defense umbrella' over the Gulf region to counter the Iranian nuclear threat. The Obama administration is now putting it into action by supplying the Saudis with a vast array of sophisticated weaponry including 84 F-15 jets and advanced helicopters. Is there any doubt that those one ton bunker-busters, supplied to Israel in the past and now going to Saudi Arabia, are destined in both cases for Iran's underground nuclear sites? In the past, Israel objected vociferously to such a U.S. arms sales to the Saudis, but not this time and for good reason. Israel has closed ranks with Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Gulf states in their ongoing cold war with Shi'ite Iran. Both Israel and the Gulf states share a common Iranian threat and the Middle East adage 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend!' is not just an empty phrase but a strategic policy consideration. 

This also explains why Israeli Navy vessels have sailed through the Suez Canal, apparently headed for the Gulf, without a peep out of Saudi Arabia. There are other ramifications. The U.S. evacuation of Iraq has aroused disquiet throughout the region about how committed the Obama administration really is in confronting Iran. Make no mistake, the Gulf states do not believe that current sanctions will deter Tehran any more than does Jerusalem. The arms sales will put sophisticated weaponry in place in Saudi Arabia for possible American use in case of a showdown with Iran. There is one problem however, the weapons are not due to start arriving until 2015 and Iran may 'breakout' to nuclear weapons long before then.

Binyamin Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

In this context, successive Israeli leaders, including Binyamin Netanyahu, have all gone on record declaring they would not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons for 'wiping Israel off the the map'. Israel Radio has reported that the Israeli Foreign Ministry is drafting 'documents' that would cope with scenarios in the foreign affairs and defense arenas and potential Israeli reactions. These include Iran declaring one day that it has acquired a nuclear potential and also a threat by the Palestinians to declare unilaterally a state on the 1967 borders if negotiations fall through. The response paper was being compiled with Israel's National Security Council for 'internal governmental' distribution. Keeping in mind that the two potential situations are rejected outright by Israel and therefore the Israeli options being formulated are tantamount to worst case scenarios. 

Although some long-distance pundits in London, Paris or New York may pooh-pooh Iran as 'a paper tiger', this is certainly not the attitude in Israel. For example, Prime Minister Netanyahu has reportedly extended, yet again, the tenure of Mossad director Meir Dagan until next summer. Dagan, according to the Egyptian newspaper Al Aharam has credited Dagan with conducting clandestine operations that have set back Iran's nuclear weapons program by a number of years. In any case, if Iran does make a mad dash to enriching weapons grade uranium and Israel or the U.S. launch a preventative attack on Iran's nuclear installations, Tehran has warned it will not only retaliate against Israel, the U,S, but also the shipping of crude oil from the Gulf through the Straits of Hormuz. Obviously, the Gulf States, starting with Saudi Arabia would be in Iran's cross-hairs. So, if Iran goes for the bomb, Israel preempts, Iran retaliates against Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, Israel and Gulf states will be fighting on the same side. It begins to look something resembling a de facto defense alliance and if so the U.S. arms sale to Saudi Arabia may give the ayatollahs in Iran something more to reckon with. In other words, Iran's decision to go all out for the bomb would embroil it in a war not only with Israel and the U.S. but also with its beefed up neighbors in the Gulf.

The Iranian Missile Range

So the U.S. is implementing what appears to be a two track strategy on Iran. First there are the harsher sanctions approved by the UN Security Council in June that are hurting the Iranian economy but have not proved to be crippling. Now Washington is trying to bolster Saudi Arabia into a more formidable opponent, something more than the paper tiger perception it has in Tehran. These days, Israeli police-makers from the Prime Minister on down are very tight-lipped over the Iranian issue, letting the U.S. lead the way. Obviously, the U.S. supply of those twenty state-of-the art F-35 stealth aircraft to Israel paved the way for Jerusalem's quiet response to the Saudi arms sale. But two of Netanyahu's closest supports, President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have identified a fly in the ointment and have criticized indirectly the Prime Minister's refusal to extend Israel's settlement freeze for another two months as requested by President Obama.

Israel's state President pulled no punches when he said Israel, which could not exist without the America's friendship, should help the U.S. form an anti-Iran coalition in the Middle east and not by declarations but by stopping what he called 'the secondary conflict with the Palestinians'. Barak has also taken issue with Netanyahu's demand that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recognize Israel as a Jewish state. At present, Netanyahu is sitting on a political seesaw - on one side is Israel's crucial relationship with U.S. while on the other is his dependence on a Right-wing coalition that objects to extending the settlement freeze. Peres has pointed to Israel's existential dependence on the U.S. with the existential threat from Iran. The Prime Minister sometimes goes to one side as he did with the ten month settlement moratorium which angered his Right wing partners. Now he has refused to extend it which annoys the Obama administration. The conclusion is there may be no solution that will satisfy both Obama and Israel's Right-wing at the same time. 

David Essing

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