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Israel is worried about the targeting of Saudi Arabia by Iran and its allies

Smoke billows from Aramco facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia after drone strikes set fire to the major oil facilities. Captured by a Planet Dove satellite on September 14, 2019 [Planet/Twitter]
Smoke billows from Aramco facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia after drone strikes set fire to the major oil facilities. Captured by a Planet Dove satellite on September 14, 2019 [Planet/Twitter]

As alleged Iranian and Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia increase — the most recent being the attack on the Aramco oil facilities — Israel's concerns are mounting, and not just about the attacks on its would-be ally. Israel is also dissatisfied with Washington's reaction, which it described as lacklustre. There is a fear in Tel Aviv that the next Iranian attack will be against Israel itself.

The Aramco attack, attributed to Iran (which denies any involvement), poses a future threat to Israel, with its implied threat that the Zionist state could be surprised soon. It was planned deliberately and very carefully, and is likely to leave a lasting effect on the Middle East. That is the Israeli perspective, at any rate.

Indeed, Israel believes that Iran is intent on showing that it has overcome the US sanctions by demonstrating its military unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capabilities. Its apparent skill in remote control warfare may be used to surprise the Zionist state.

Moreover, the US failure to respond adequately — in Israeli eyes — against Iran after the attack on Saudi Arabia means that it has surrendered its deterrent power. This must also concern Israel, given that the attack on the Aramco facilities in Saudi Arabia is said to have been the most dangerous since the beginning of the year.

READ: Saudi-led coalition denies Houthi claims of capturing troops

While some of the details of the Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia are still unclear, the fact that the US seems to be content with imposing sanctions on Iran and nothing more puts Tel Aviv, Riyadh and Washington in the front line of a common challenge: the possibility of a greater threat emerging.

Israelis are convinced that Iran's vision of this "modest" US response to the attack on Saudi Arabia could encourage it to carry out more strikes in the region. Their own country could be next, as could so-called moderate, pro-American Arab states. In fact, the feeling in Tel Aviv is that the US has not only reduced its level of sponsorship of states in the region, but that this also means that Israel's own deterrent factor has been reduced. Thus, the Israelis have to be more alert to the possibilities of Iranian attacks heading their way, and get ready to boost their missile defence systems.

In the meantime, security sources in Israel have confirmed that the recent attacks in Saudi Arabia were a test for the US, not least President Donald Trump's foreign policy. His "lacklustre" response is his way of saying that the attack in Saudi Arabia did not affect US interests directly, as his tweets suggested clearly; it was a Saudi affair, not American. If Iran attacks Israel, the worry in Tel Aviv is that Trump will say that it is an Israeli affair, nothing to do with America.

While it is true that Israel's standing in America is different from that of Saudi Arabia, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has close ties with Trump and the US Congress, Israel cannot guarantee that its favoured nation status will continue forever. What's more, an alliance with the US may actually restrict Israel's options should it want to attack Iran itself.

It is important at this time to consider the impact of the attack on Saudi facilities on the growing Israel-Saudi relations, especially with more details coming out about increasing Israeli involvement in the Yemen war. Such involvement with the Arab states includes Israel's interference in the Strait of Hormuz, as if it has solved all of the problems it faces at home and has time and money spare to venture further afield.

READ: Saudi messages to Iran via mediators

With Israel participating in the International Maritime Security Construct in the Gulf, it is clear that its interests are part of a strategy to contain the Iranian threat. It is also cooperating with Riyadh and Washington with an official presence in the Bab Al-Mandab Strait, where the Houthis threaten the shipping routes for the Arab oil states through the Red Sea and Suez Canal to Europe and beyond.

Israeli-Saudi relations are developing around common interests and regional issues, a fact that Netanyahu has been proud to make public. A number of meetings between the two states have been held, including one attended by the late Mossad chief Meir Dagan and his Saudi counterpart, for example, as well as one with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the former head of Saudi intelligence. The qualitative leap in relations between Riyadh, Tel Aviv and Washington occurred in 2015, following the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. King Salman took the throne and appointed his son Mohammad as Crown Prince. Since then, Mohammad Bin Salman, Netanyahu and Trump have shared an interest in curbing Iran's growing regional influence.

Finally, it is true that Israel has maintained an official silence over the Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia, but in security, military and diplomatic forums it has expressed its desire for it to be a catalyst for greater cooperation and coordination between Riyadh and Tel Aviv. Such developments may prompt Saudi Arabia and Israel to establish a regional alliance in the face of perceived security threats that worry them both.

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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