Justice Minister Tzipi Livni has said that Saudi Arabia and Israel share a position on Iran but cooperation between the two countries is difficult due to the continued Palestine-Israel conflict. Livni, who is currently leading the negotiations with the Palestinians, added that when the Saudis talk about what needs to be done in order to prevent Iran [from developing nuclear weapons], "it sounds familiar".
It is rare for an Israeli minister to make such a link between Israeli and Saudi goals because the states have no diplomatic ties. "Nevertheless, I think that Arabic sounds similar to Hebrew when it comes to Iran," said Livni, who is an ex-foreign minister of Israel.
Although Iran continues to insist that its nuclear programme has entirely peaceful objectives, both Israel and Saudi Arabia fear that Tehran is developing nuclear weapons and is looking to change the balance of power in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia has grown increasingly frustrated with what it perceives as US weakness in confronting Syria's civil war and Washington's recent diplomatic engagement with Tehran. These concerns are shared by Israel. Diplomatic telegrams published by WikiLeaks three years ago showed that Saudi's King Abdullah had urged the United States frequently to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear programme. Israel has also hinted at military action, expressing its willingness to act unilaterally to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
While addressing the Knesset (parliament) last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the rare commonality of Israeli-Arab interests as something that could help advance peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Livni, however, suggested that such a hope was unrealistic, telling a conference organised by the Jerusalem Post that Arab states first want to see progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace-making before considering any change of policy toward Israel.
"In order to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon," she said in English, "we need to cooperate with those [who] view Iran is a threat to them as well." Unfortunately, she added, the open conflict with the Palestinians makes it "impossible or very difficult" for them to deal with Israel. Last week, Saudi Arabia mentioned international failure to grant Palestinians a state as one of the reasons why it had refused a seat on the UN Security Council.
"It is now very clear that the interests of the State of Israel [and] the moderates or the pragmatists in the region are the same," Livni said, "and therefore, we need to continue putting pressure on Iran… while moving forward in the peace process."
Both issues were on the agenda of a lengthy meeting between Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday in Rome which revealed their differences over the Iranian issue. Israel has called repeatedly for the effective dismantling of Iran's nuclear programme, while the United States believes better safeguards are required to ensure its peaceful development. A diplomatic approach is now favoured, apparently, by the Obama administration.