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Israel and Saudi Arabia: the permanent counter-revolution

What has the record of 2011’s Arab uprisings taught us so far? One could list many things, but to me, the most striking reality is the now open nature of the alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

This alliance represents a permanent counter-revolution which together dominates the region – fully backed by the imperial hegemony run out of Washington DC.


The two regimes are both military dictatorships in very different ways. The two regimes are also theocracies, each in their own way. The extreme Wahhabist religious vision of the sprawling Saudi royal family which dominates the country may lead you to think it would hate the so-called “Jewish state”. Not so.

While Saudi regime media does indeed regularly spew anti-Semitism, the Zionist movement has never really cared about anti-Semitism, except as a bludgeon with which to smear its enemies. No: in fact, in the Israeli press it is typical to see Saudi Arabia referred to as a “moderate” regime.

This “moderate” regime is in fact a ruthless, absolutest monarchy which does not even bother with the the pretence of sham 99-percent elections – the royal family, with its thousands of ageing princes simply rules the country with an iron fist, jailing all dissenters.

After the 2011 popular uprising which ousted the Tunisian dictator Zein eldin Ben Ali from power where did he flee? Saudi Arabia, where he was welcomed by the king with open arms. Since then, the kingdom has refused all extradition requests from Tunisia.

The Saudis, drawing on their seemingly limitless oil wealth, are exporting death and destruction all over the region. In Syria, the Saudis lead the push for war, and are in fact fighting a proxy war there.

In Lebanon, the Saudis are one of the most likely culprits behind a recent space of car bombs seemingly aimed at inciting sectarian clashes. Saudi money fairly sloshes around the region, into the pockets of court-stenographer “journalists” who use their platforms to parrot Saudi foreign policy goals and and spread hatred and sectarianism.

Speaking to the New York times recently Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York, summed up current Israeli policy in Syria: “Let them both [sides] bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this [civil war] lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.”

The outgoing Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren this week claimed Israeli thinking was more equivocal, however: “we always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” This would align more fully with Saudi Arabia’s policy goal to overthrow Assad – despite a brief entente in 2009 when King Abdullah paid an official visit to Damascus.

Whatever the prevailing strategic thinking at the top in Israel, the once-tacit Saudi-Israeli alliance is now fairly open.

Oren made it clear: “in the last 64 years there has probably never been a greater confluence of interest between us and several Gulf States. With these Gulf States we have agreements on Syria, on Egypt, on the Palestinian issue. We certainly have agreements on Iran. This is one of those opportunities presented by the Arab Spring.”

In Egypt, the Saudis actually led the counter-revolution – with Israel’s diplomatic backing – encouraging American leaders to strongly back dictator Hosni Mubarak when he was most under pressure in 2011. The Saudis seem resentful that the Obama administration was caught on the back-foot and did not quite know how to respond to the Arab uprisings.

Since then, a counter-revolution has dominated in Egypt. General Sisi military coup regime, which seized power in July, is fully backed by the Saudis. The royals have pledged billions in aid to the regime should US military aid be cut (a highly unlikely prospect).

Writing in the Jewish Chronicle last month, Haaretz’s London correspondent Anshel Pfeffer said that Israeli officials are quietly satisfied with the coup. “We know al-Sisi and we can do business with him,” he claims one senior Israeli security official told him.

In Bahrain, another popular uprising in 2011 was crushed more directly – with Saudi troops.

The Saudi role in funding counter-revolution and political violence has a long history – and not only in the region. This is another aspect where Israel and the Saudi royals see eye-to-eye. In the 1980s, the US Congress for a time blocked the Reagan administration’s efforts to fund and arm the Contras – the death squads the CIA was using to fight left wing government in Nicaragua (all the while pretending in the US media they were “revolutionaries” and “freedom fighters”).

Who did the CIA turn to to fill the gap? Saudi Arabia and Israel. In fact the very same Saudi prince who was in charge of arming the Contras then is now running guns into Syria — Prince Bandar bin Sultan – once again with the help of the CIA (and also British spooks).

Until the despotic Saudi regime is no long able to export its oil wealth and political violence throughout the region, the prospects for genuine democratic change in the Arab world seem dim — and democracy in the Arab world is what Israel fears the most.

Despite the rash of civil wars, near-civil wars or virtually collapsed states throughout the region right now, one thing seems certain: when the dust settles, Israel will still be unpopular.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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