Saturday, June 6, 2015

Israel and Saudi Arabia: Reluctant Diplomacy

Among serious Western thinkers today it’s acceptable to be anti-Semitic. So visceral is their disdain for Western, that is, Judeo-Christian civilization, that they are willing to countenance racist bigotry.

Even on this blog some commenters have happily listed all the bad things Israel has done, conveniently ignoring all that Israel has accomplished. They do not, of course, list all of the good things that Hamas has accomplished… because there are none.

They even imagine that because Israel has nuclear weapons it is a threat to its neighbors. The truth is: Israel has likely had nuclear weapons for some time now. None of its neighbors feel threatened. Now that Iran is about to gain these weapons, many of its neighbors feel threatened.

Only a bigot would miss the point.

Those who still cling bitterly to the hope for revolution support the Palestinian cause, regardless of the way that Hamas treats its citizens. They hate Israel for its success, for its Western ways and for its being an outpost of Western civilization in a region that has increasingly gone over to the dark side.

They support the Boycott Divest Sanction movement, movement that singles out one nation and seeks to punish its citizens. Among BDS supporters we find notorious dimwit Judith Butler, a woman who once said:

… understanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important.

Of course, Butler eventually walked it back by saying that she could not support Hamas and Hezbollah fully as long as they were committing acts of violence. Apparently, Butler has no problem with destroying Israel, as long as it is done non-violently.

BDS is surely a step in that direction.

To keep things in perspective, we note that the president of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been developing a cooperative relationship with Israel. Having understood the threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood (parent of Hamas), he is working to suppress it.

Now, according to Bloomberg, Israel and Saudi Arabia are reluctantly developing a cooperative alliance. One understands that these nations have for some time been working together diplomatically, but recently they went public.

Those who want to be well-informed about such matters should take serious note of what is going on.

Bloomberg reports:

Since the beginning of 2014, representatives from Israel and Saudi Arabia have had five secret meetings to discuss a common foe, Iran. On Thursday, the two countries came out of the closet by revealing this covert diplomacy at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

Among those who follow the Middle East closely, it's been an open secret that Israel and Saudi Arabia have a common interest in thwarting Iran. But until Thursday, actual diplomacy between the two was never officially acknowledged. Saudi Arabia still doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist. Israel has yet to accept a Saudi-initiated peace offer to create a Palestinian state.

When and where did the meetings take place? Bloomberg reports:

The five bilateral meetings over the last 17 months occurred in India, Italy and the Czech Republic. One participant, Shimon Shapira, a retired Israeli general and an expert on the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, told me: "We discovered we have the same problems and same challenges and some of the same answers." Shapira described the problem as Iran's activities in the region, and said both sides had discussed political and economic ways to blunt them, but wouldn't get into any further specifics.

One notes the subtlety of the diplomatic maneuvering. The speakers were semi-official representatives of their governments. They were not official spokesmen, but they clearly spoke for their governments.

Who were they?

After an introduction, there was a speech in Arabic from Anwar Majed Eshki, a retired Saudi general and ex-adviser to Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. Then Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations who is slotted to be the next director general of Israel's foreign ministry, gave a speech in English.

Bloomberg summarized the substance of their speeches:

While these men represent countries that have been historic enemies, their message was identical: Iran is trying to take over the Middle East and it must be stopped.

Eshki was particularly alarming. He laid out a brief history of Iran since the 1979 revolution, highlighting the regime's acts of terrorism, hostage-taking and aggression. He ended his remarks with a seven-point plan for the Middle East. Atop the list was achieving peace between Israel and the Arabs. Second came regime-change in Iran. Also on the list were greater Arab unity, the establishment of an Arab regional military force, and a call for an independent Kurdistan to be made up of territory now belonging to Iraq, Turkey and Iran.

Gold's speech was slightly less grandiose. He, too, warned of Iran's regional ambitions. But he didn't call for toppling the Tehran government. "Our standing today on this stage does not mean we have resolved all the differences that our countries have shared over the years," he said of his outreach to Saudi Arabia. "But our hope is we will be able to address them fully in the years ahead."

The question that immediately arises is: Where’s Barack? You will note that President Obama has had nothing directly to do with this alliance.

We all know that Obama has consistently treated Israel’s prime minister Netanyahu with contempt. His recent efforts to cast himself as a friend of Israel were simply a way to test the gullibility of American Jews.

We also know that the Saudis were severely unhappy when Obama abandoned their close friend and ally, Hosni Mubarak. The way the Obama-Clinton foreign policy team handled the Arab Spring showed the Saudis that Obama was either unfriendly or incompetent, or both.

Obama’s push for a nuclear deal with Iran is an existential threat to Israel and Saudi Arabia. Thus, they have joined forces.

It's no coincidence that the meetings between Gold, Eshki and a few other former officials from both sides took place in the shadow of the nuclear talks among Iran, the U.S. and other major powers. Saudi Arabia and Israel are arguably the two countries most threatened by Iran's nuclear program, but neither has a seat at the negotiations scheduled to wrap up at the end of the month.

Bloomberg concludes:

A few years ago, it was mainly Israel that rang the alarm about Iranian expansionism in the Middle East. It is significant that now Israel is joined in this campaign by Saudi Arabia, a country that has wished for its destruction since 1948.

The two nations worry today that President Barack Obama's efforts to make peace with Iran will embolden that regime's aggression against them. It's unclear whether Obama will get his nuclear deal. But either way, it may end up that his greatest diplomatic accomplishment will be that his outreach to Iran helped create the conditions for a Saudi-Israeli alliance against it.

One is obliged to conclude that international politics makes strange bedfellows.

Or else, that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

The key hypothetical question is always dodged: Would you want to be captured or ruled by the Israelis or by Hamas or any other Middle Eastern state?

You know your answer. Why do you think that is?

We say everyone should have an ancestral homeland and be ruled by their own. That's what the whole post-Wilsonian view is. The Jews have documented claim to their ancestral land... it's not some sham fiction. They also want to be ruled by other Jews. Israel is a Jewish state, and was founded as such.why is this strange? It's an accepted concept for every other nation, as are rights to territorial defense from avowed enemies.

Why do we think the Jews are different? Many do. They have to look at them as super-human (Zionist conspiracy) or sub-human (the final solution to the Jewish question). But they are an undeniable nation. They have water scarcity, and they create their way out of it. On a little strip of land they were allowed at the time of partition. The Jews are different than their neighbors, and we are wise to acknowledge that with our support.

Ares Olympus said...

Maybe this was Obama's secret plan all along?

As long as America is trying to hold everyone's hand, all the competing players stay self-interested and divided, while as you say Iran gives the Saudis and Israel a common threat, and also gives a bridge between Jewish and Muslim common cause.

Not to suggest the Saudi royalty are an ideal partner beyond common security, but they used to be our best friends, until they decided to allow religious fundamentalists free reign to cause 9/11. But maybe Israel can take a turn trying to moderate the kingdom?

I'm not that interested in decoding the politics, but here's one perspective below.

I do disagree with the idea the Saudis are bad friends for playing price-hardball, just honest rivals, choosing to expand oil production in a oil glut, and really I don't see the new shale oil production in the U.S. surviving the low prices that the Saudi's can afford, but its hard to guess what breaks first.
In my Post colleague Charles Krauthammer’s May 21 op-ed column, “You want hypotheticals? Here’s one,” former Saudi Arabian intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal was quoted approvingly as complaining: “We were America’s best friend in the Arab world for 50 years.” Note the past tense.

As Oscar Wilde is credited with saying, “True friends stab you in the front.”
In 2001, then-Crown Prince Abdullah, then the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia and a backer of the Palestinian intifada, didn’t think the United States was doing enough to oppose Israeli action in the Palestinian territories. So when he was invited to visit the White House to meet with newly elected Bush in May 2001, Abdullah chose to stay at home, haughtily announcing, “We want [the United States] to consider their own conscience.”

A few months later, Abdullah fired off a letter angrily warning Bush that “A time comes when peoples and nations part. We are at a crossroads. It is time for the United States and Saudi Arabia to look at their separate interests.” Remember that, Prince Turki?

Today, the Saudis are in a tight spot, but it’s not because of the United States. The roiling Islamic struggle, pitting the Sunni Saudi and Persian Gulf states against their Shiite rivals in Iran, is of the Islamic world’s own doing. The United States can’t save them from themselves.

Still, some good has come out of the Saudi oil blackmail. It woke us up to the vulnerability caused by dependence on foreign oil. The oil shocks forced a succession of U.S. presidents, beginning with Richard Nixon, to initiate efforts to raise fuel-economy standards, increase conservation measures and double down on other power sources.

Now, shale production has propelled the United States way up the ladder as an oil producer, making us far less dependent on the kingdom than we were when we got blindsided in ’73.

And the response from our “best friend”?

The Saudis have been pumping up oil production to cause prices to fall, preserve their market share and thus undermine U.S. shale oil development.

What a friend we have in Saudi Arabia.

Ares Olympus said...

Chris Mallory said... "Judeo-Christian" There is no such thing.

Stuart said "Judeo-Christian civilization", a common history. And even by religion Christianity shares the old testament with the Torah.

But from what I learned from the history of Christianity from my church's orientation, many Christians don't consider other Christians as legitimate either, so there's lots of disapproval to go around as pleases you. Everyone can play the piety game, and the only rule is everyone else is playing it wrong.

High Arka said...

How many white European people in different costumes does it take to convince the rest of the world that the holy sites of the Abramic religions actually belong to white European people who wear different kinds of headgear?

What a silly notion, that those cosplaying white people are enemies! France, Britain, and the U.S. have invaded the entire Middle East except for two magically special countries that are always protected from international blowback or world-policing.