One result of 2011’s democratic uprisings in the Arab world was to bring a secretive regional alliance increasingly into the the light. That alliance is the one between Israel and the Gulf Arab dictatorships – foremost among them the Saudi royals.
It became clearer and clearer for all to see the affinity that Gulf royals and the Israeli regime both had for dictatorships in the Arab world. Tunisia’s Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia after his people deposed him. As the Americans vacillated over whether or not to carry on with their support for Mubarak, the Saudis were furious that the Americans were not adequately supporting the Egyptian dictator.
To the Israelis, of course, Mubarak was a favourite. They were alarmed when the first elected president came to power in Egypt, and relieved when he was overthrown by the military in the 2013 coup.
Israeli contacts on the official level in the Arab world can only be sustained over the objection of the people themselves, since Israel continues to be highly unpopular. The only official diplomatic relations Israel holds are with Egypt and Jordan – both dictatorships where real democracy would likely lead to the end of respective peace treaties, or at least fundamental renegotiations of unjust provisions therein.
In the event, the Americans did indeed throw Mubarak under the bus, but only on the understanding that the Deep State would be preserved, and the generals and spooks would retain power behind the scenes. This is ultimately what happened, despite some mild attempts to combat it by Morsi, the first democratically elected president (whose death sentence on farcical charges was just upheld by the courts of the coup regime).
In 2013, I noted in two columns here how the alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel had now gone public. The two states, while not having official diplomatic relations, were increasingly finding common ground and were gradually coming out with it publicly.
The main area of common ground was scaremongering over Iran and its supposed “nuclear capability”. In reality, Iran only has an nuclear energy programme, which Israel has long tried to sabotage through various methods, including the sponsorship of terrorist attacks to murder Iranian scientists, and cyber attacks such as Stuxnet which targetted nuclear power facilities.
But now the US under Barack Obama has concluded that its best interest lie in reaching a détente with Iran. The US administration and Iran reached an interim agreement to roll back some sanctions against Iran in exchange for certain limits and scrutiny on the Iranian nuclear energy programme. Israel is not happy about this, and Netanyahu has done his best to sabotage the deal, although so far without success. The Saudis are also ringing alarm bells. Both Israel and the Saudis now seem to be moving on in their propaganda refrains against Iran from emphasis on the nuclear issue and more on an alleged Iranian plot to dominate the region.
And now, in 2015, the Saudi-Israeli alliance is so open, that there is little left for the the two regimes to do but open mutual embassies. Both are US allies, and receive massive military and political backing from the US. But both also have key and important policy differences with the US right now.
Saudi Arabia, of course, is one of the worst, most brutal fundamentalist regimes in the world. It is second-to-none in beheadings: executing 100 people this way in the first half of this year alone, more than the figure for the whole of 2014, and more than the so-called “Islamic State”. In 2014, the Saudi regime executed at least 90 people, making it the third-biggest executioner in the world after China (the numbers are secret but believed by Amnesty International to be in the thousands) and Iran (289 officially announced).
But it is not human rights concerns that led to American differences with Saudi Arabia. It is rather the cynical exercise of US power in the region. The extremist Saudi interpretation of Islam is viciously sectarian, particularly against the Shia variant of Islam, whose adherents it considers to be unbelievers. For this reason, the Saudis are fundamentally opposed to the Iraqi and Iranian governments – in both countries there are Shia majorities and Shia-led governments. In Syria, the country is ruled by a ruling clique (still retaining power despite a vicious civil war with atrocities on all sides) which is mostly adherent to the Alawite sect – which the Saudis and their proxies of course also consider as heretics. For these reasons and for cynical power reasons, the Saudis have been exporting their power through vicious regional proxies in each country. And time after time, these have now been overlapping with Israeli interests.
The alliance is become so open, that other commentators have started to take notice.
Last year, in the midst of the brutal Israeli war against Gaza the editor of Middle East EyeDavid Hearst called it an “alliance forged in blood”. He pointed to reports that Israel had specified a “role for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the demilitarisation of Hamas” – that is that Saudi and Emirati funds would be “used to rebuild Gaza after Hamas had been defanged”.
Taking the Saudi lead, other Gulf tyrants too have forged ahead with commercial, intelligence and diplomatic links with Israel. Investigative reporter Rori Donaghy in December revealed regular semi-covert flights on private jets between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv. And in February he detailed how an Israeli company had been contracted to install a huge spy system in the Gulf emirate.
In April, Robert Parry, the reporter who broke much of the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s, claimed that, drawing on an anonymous US source, the Saudis have given the Israelis $16 billion over the last two and a half years in order to cement this anti-Iranian alliance.
Some of this money, reportedly a “Netanyahu slush fund” has allegedly gone to fund illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The motive for this “slush fund” was reportedly for the Saudis to buy the support of the Israel lobby in Washington DC. If that was the case it seems to be working.
As The Interceptreported earlier this month, the alliance is really out in the open now. At a Washington think tank’s public event this month it was revealed that the two countries “had been holding a series of high-level meetings to discuss shared strategic goals” particularly around Iran. This had been taking place in “five bilateral meetings over the last 17 months” Bloomberg reported. The representatives of the two states in question were no lightweights: Anwar Majed Eshki, a retired Saudi general and ex-adviser to Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to the US. And on the Israeli side was Dore Gold, once an advisor to the late Prime Minister and accused war criminal Ariel Sharon, and now the new director-general of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Thus the Saudis can now said to be Arab Lukidniks. In their support of Israel, they are even more to the right than the US administration.
Of course, the Americans’ differences with the Saudis are purely self-interested and not at all concerned with human rights, but with what will lead to their optimum level of imperial control in the region.
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.