In an interview with Saudi-owned Elaph, which both local and international media have described as “unprecedented,” Israeli Lieutenant General Gadi Eizenkot said that his country is ready to share its intelligence on Iran with Saudi Arabia. Despite the fact that the majority Jewish state and the conservative Sunni Muslim kingdom do not have any diplomatic ties, the statement made by Israel’s most senior soldier comes as no surprise to political analysts following the situation in the region.
“With President Donald Trump, there is an opportunity for a new international alliance in the region and a major strategic plan to stop the Iranian threat,” said Lt. Gen. Eisenkot said, the first Israeli official to speak to Saudi media. He added that Israel is “ready to exchange experiences with moderate Arab countries and exchange intelligence to confront Iran.”
According to Reuters, Donald Trump’s pressure on Iran could be what provided the opportunity for new alliances to be formed in the highly polarized Middle East.
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Lt. Gen. Eisenkot said that Iran is by far “the biggest threat to the region.” The statement comes at a time when Tehran’s potential danger to the region significantly outweighs the one posed by Hezbollah, which Saudi officials have described as “a first-class terrorist organization used by Iran to destabilize Lebanon and the region.”
The commander of the Israeli defense forces also told Saudi reporters that Israel has no intention of launching an attack on Hezbollah. He explained that Israel recognizes that Hezbollah’s recent actions were “Iranian attempts at bringing about an escalation” in the region, but he believes that there is very little chance for that happening at the moment.
In light of the recent turmoil in the region, namely, the sudden resignation of Lebanon’s prime minister, Israel’s decision to cooperate with Saudi Arabia is a clear indicator of how unstable the political situation in the Middle East is.
“Iran seeks to take control of the Middle East, creating a Shi’ite crescent from Lebanon to Iran, and then from the Gulf to the Red Sea,” Eisenkot continued in the interview, saying that it must be prevented from happening.
What’s behind this recent turn of events?
Earlier this summer, the London Times reported that secret negotiations were conducted between Saudi Arabia and Israel in order to rebuild diplomatic and trade ties between the two countries. Even though Saudi officials denied this claim and Israel mostly stayed silent on the issue, the report shed light on the issue and raised many questions regarding whether or not the two countries could ever come to an agreement.
With most of the animosity between Saudi Arabia and Israel stemming from the Israeli withdrawal from the 1967 Middle East war, it seems that the recent modernization process initiated by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, might put an end to the hostility between the two countries.
However, Foreign Policy’s latest piece on the issue suggests that Israel’s intent to cooperate with Saudi Arabia on the Iran issue has more to do with the fact that Israeli intelligence is having a hard time following and reacting to the recent political unrest in Lebanon and Iran. By sharing its intelligence with Saudi Arabia, the two countries could, in theory, double the pressure on Iran and create a much more favorable outcome for the crisis that has engulfed the region.
Haaretz, an Israeli daily newspaper, has a different opinion on the matter, though. In a piece ran earlier this month, it suggested that Saudi Arabia might be trying to push Israel into war with Lebanon’s Hezbollah. An all-out war with Hezbollah could be devastating to Israel, and Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s sudden resignation might be a result of Saudi’s alleged meddling with the country’s political stability. By destabilizing what is already a rather unstable government, Saudi Arabia could make Lebanon a much bigger threat to Israel.
Could this be a start of a new “moderate” Middle Eastern alliance?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been actively promoting the notion that Tel Aviv’s ties with neighboring Arab nations have significantly improved in the past few years. And while most experts agree that joint concerns Middle Eastern countries have over Iran might be what brings them closer together, the question remains how efficient and long lasting those coalitions might be?
France24 said the Prime Minister described Israel’s relations with the rest of the Arab world as being “the best ever.” However, with other officials providing very little evidence to support the claim, and the fact that only two Arab countries — Egypt and Jordan — have peace treaties signed with Israel, it seems that stability has not yet dawned on Israel.
If a new alliance were to be formed between the “moderate” Arab countries and Israel, it could drastically change the speed and method in which the situation in Iran and Syria are addressed. A common enemy might make Saudi Arabia put aside the conflict between Israel and Palestine and focus on resolving the much more dangerous and impending issue that is Iran.
As there have been unconfirmed sources claiming that Saudi Arabia is willing to establish trade relations with Israel, a political and military alliance might be what paves the way for the countries to cooperate.
We have yet to hear from Riyadh on this matter, but whatever the outcome to this state of affairs is, it will, without doubt, have a monumental impact on the region.