Persistent rumors allege that Saudi Arabia and Israel have a secret agreement to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities if talks between the P5+1 powers and Iran result in an unacceptable deal. These rumors suggest that Mossad agents made arrangements with Saudi leaders to carry out a joint attack if the negotiations that resumed on Wednesday produce an agreement that is not acceptable to the Saudis and Israelis.
Multiple reports in the New York Times, BBC, CNN, Haaretz and elsewhere have detailed this supposed agreement between the Saudis and Israelis. The rumors are gaining traction because both countries have voiced their displeasure over the deal that was offered to Iran at the previous Geneva negotiating session, an agreement that was ultimately torpedoed by the French foreign minister’s refusal to approve a “fool’s deal.”
The Saudi government has looked with increasing alarm at various developments inside and outside the region over the past several months:
- The withdrawal of the United States from involvement in the Middle East, as exemplified by the decision to accept Russian President Vladimir Putin’s last-minute offer to arrange for the peaceful dismantling of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons facilities. This despite an offer by the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman) to finance the entire military operation if the United States and France attacked Syria. The Saudi reaction was furious. The French, who had offered to join in the attack, were equally angry.
- The spread of the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and other even more extremist groups throughout the region as a result of the Arab Spring. These groups represent an existential threat to the Saudi royal family and its control not only over the kingdom itself but over the entire GCC region, as exemplified by the Saudi military intervention in the Bahraini uprising.
- Most important of all, the looming threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, which would give that country the ability to blackmail all the GCC countries, including Saudi Arabia, while continuing to incite the substantial Shiite populations of the Gulf region to rebel against their Sunni rulers.
All of these concerns are also concerns for Israel, which has other problems as well, including chaos in Syria and strained relations with the Palestinian Authority, negotiations with which are going nowhere despite continuous and resented pressure on the part of the U.S. administration.
The Near East and Middle East are increasingly divided between two arcs of influence. The northern, or Shiite, arc extends from Lebanon through Syria and Iraq to its leading country, Iran. The southern, or Sunni, arc extends from Egypt through Jordan to the GCC countries.
These two arcs of influence are increasingly antagonistic and are in reality at war with each other, a war waged violently in Syria, through subversion and sabotage in Lebanon, Iraq and Bahrain, to every other form of confrontation in Egypt and the Gulf Arab states.
Israel is increasingly becoming an informal member of the southern arc. It maintains formal diplomatic relations with two members, Egypt and Jordan, and had a commercial office in Qatar until the second Lebanon war. Israel is the only country in the southern arc that is believed to have a nuclear capacity, although Israel has never acknowledged it.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai reportedly are going to allow Israel to establish commercial offices in those Gulf emirates, a form of informal recognition.
Other reports contend that Saudi Arabia has alerted Pakistan that it may trigger a putative agreement between the two countries, whereby the Saudis can obtain nuclear warheads from Pakistan in exchange for financial assistance to Pakistan in the development of its nuclear capability.
A shift of revolutionary significance is taking place in the Levant and the Gulf as well as North Africa. With the slow withdrawal of the United States from direct involvement in the Middle East and the inability of European nations to fill the vacuum, other countries are entering the arena, including Russia and China.
Russian involvement in Syria and now Egypt has been well-documented, and Putin visited Jerusalem this week. But Russian capacity for intervention is limited, and the memory of ham-handed Soviet involvement is fresh.
China apparently has decided that Israel is of real interest in the region because of its growing technology industry. The Chinese are opening Confucius institutes all over the country, a Chinese firm has acquired an Israeli high-tech company, and Hong Kong entrepreneur Li Ka-shing is investing $280 million to open a campus of the Technion, Israel’s MIT equivalent, in China. Li would be unlikely to take such a step without the approval or encouragement of Beijing.
In the end, the Saudis have decided that they must arrange for their own defense, and reportedly turned to Israel to join with them in attacking Iran if necessary. The rumored deal will involve not just Saudi airspace and refueling facilities for Israeli combat aircraft, but direct involvement of the Saudi air force as well.