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The Secret Saudi-Israeli Partnership

By Faraz Talat

01 July 2017

The Western narrative attributes the end to the Arab-Israeli war 1973 to Israeli resilience, and the diplomatic prowess of the Western world in face of Arab intransigence. This is far less mortifying than admitting up front that the West was brought to its knees neither by the perseverance of the Western-Israeli bloc, nor the fortitude of the Egyptian soldier; but by the pen of a Saudi statesman.

The Arab members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia naturally in lead, resorted to a power play for which the Western powers were woefully unprepared. The Arab OPEC countries reduced their oil production, and imposed an oil embargo. The United States was boycotted and the West was punished for its endless military and political aid to Israel.

It’s not too dramatic to deem this embargo the economic equivalent of napalming New York and London. By January 1974, the price of oil had gone up from $2.90 a barrel to an unsustainable $11.65, resulting in the infamous “oil shock”. With its economic growth held hostage by OAPEC, the West was forced to curtail its military support to Israel and negotiate an end to the embargo by March 1974.

In 1974, Saudi Arabia had established its potential in counteracting American hegemony. The United States and its allies knew they had to neutralize this opposition if they were to retain their political dominance. The Arab-Israeli war was followed not by military action against OAPEC, but a delicate series of diplomatic policies aimed at modernizing the Saudi Kingdom, and bring it in line with the West’s own vision.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not recognize the state of Israel, nor has it ever done so. But why would it? KSA has nothing to gain by outright alienating most of its fellow Muslim countries through the act of embracing Israel. KSA enjoys centrality in the Islamic world that affords it immense politico-economic influence. Although political analysts may question the wisdom and maturity of the Saudi administration, as many currently hold back bouts of laughter over KSA’s deportation of 15,000 Qatari camels, let there be no doubt over Saudis’ political acumen.

Although the Kingdom has never formally recognised Israel, the pretence of enmity fails in the face of overwhelming evidence of political, military, and economic cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Even when officials from both states are publicly exchanging heated words, it takes little skill to notice that the political goals of Saudi Arabia and Israel are nearly always aligned.

In 2013, the Times of London reported an alleged agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel, allowing the latter to use the Kingdom’s air bases for a potential air raid on Iran. According to an earlier report, Saudi Arabia had readjusted its missile defense systems to allow Israeli jets to pass through Saudi airspace unharmed. In 2014, at an event at the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington, representatives of both countries revealed that they’d been secretly conducting meetings over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. According to leaked US diplomatic cable, Saudi Arabia also urged the United States to “cut off the head of the snake” by launching a military strike against Iran.

Although Saudi Arabia denies this alliance, it’s certainly not implausible when one regards the maxim that the enemy of one’s enemy is one’s friend. Iran has long been the common enemy of Saudi Arabia and Israel, while Israel and Saudi Arabia share a common ally and benefactor – the United States. Nearly every element of the current geopolitical atmosphere begs cooperation between KSA and Israel.

The only real element that sours potential partnership is Palestine. But despite the occasional lip service, this interest appears to be on decline. In 2011, Palestine’s financial crisis was attributed to a shortfall of more than $600 million in aid pledged by the Arab countries. In Saudi Arabia, hundreds of thousands are Palestinians are not allowed to apply for citizenship. In 2004, in fact, KSA’s Council of Ministers permitted expatriates of all nationalities residing in KSA for ten years or more, to apply for Saudi citizenship – except for Palestinians.

Political analysts have linked Israel to the recent diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Qatar has been accused of sponsoring terrorism by Saudi Arabia, the irony of which will be discussed later. To be precise, the terrorist organisation from which KSA demands Qatar to withdraw its support is Hamas. The Israeli defence minister quickly declared the crisis was an “opportunity for cooperation”. The sentiment appears be mutual, as the former Saudi Intelligence chief – Prince Turki el-Feisal – has been reported to have said, “There is nothing that can stop the combination of Israeli money and the Saudi mind.”

Although Israel and Saudi Arabia have always shared lucrative business ties through unofficial or secret means, the appointment of Mohammed bin Salman as the new crown prince is good news for further Saudi-Israeli economic and military relations. Israel’s intelligence minister, Yisrael Katz, has cordially invited the Saudi King and the new Crown Prince to Tel Aviv, to discuss their shared interests. According to The Times, the two countries are already in talks to establish stronger economic ties.

Either tacitly or explicitly, Saudi Arabia and Israel have cooperated enough times to make any guise of hostility pointlessly transparent. The only surprise is how Saudi Arabia has been able to feign its concern for Palestinians in the midst of the partnership with their oppressors, while also earning the respect of staunchly anti-Israeli states like Pakistan.

That, we may never know.