Iran threat brings Arabs and Israelis closer

Sunday 15/05/2016
A ballistic missile is launched and tested in an undisclosed location, Iran, last March.

In a rare joint appearance, a member of the Saudi royal family and an Israeli official expressed similar concerns about Iran’s nuclear policies.

Saudi Prince Turki al- Faisal Al Saud, a former intelligence chief, said at a meeting organised by the Wash­ington Institute for Near East Pol­icy that any cooperation between Arab states and Israel was based on combating threats, including from Iran, although such coopera­tion would be stronger if there were a broader peace between the Arab world and Israel.

Yaakov Amidror, a former Israeli Defence Forces general and national security adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netan­yahu, also highlighted the peril that Iran represents to Tel Aviv, while downplaying the suspected threat from Israel to its Arab neighbours. He said more Arabs have died at the hands of their fellow Arabs than have been killed by Israel.

According to reports, Saudi and Israeli officials have met on five occasions since the start of 2014 to discuss the threat represented by Iran. Riyadh and Tel Aviv have a common interest in countering Iran.

On the official level, Riyadh does not recognise the state of Israel while Tel Aviv is hostile to Saudi plans for Palestinian-Israeli peace, which include the establishment of an independent Pales­tinian state. How­ever, following the Iran nuclear deal, the equation changed. Riyadh and Tel Aviv fear a resurgent Iran and what this means for the future of the Middle East.

Arab states have tried to reach an understanding with Iran, including inviting former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsan­jani to Riyadh. In 2007, Arab Gulf states invited president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to attend the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) sum­mit. However, Iran’s regional aim is not served by responding to such overtures.

Some could argue that the White House, through its nuclear deal with Iran, is seeking to push the Arabs and Israelis together. This could see Arabs recognise Israel and Tel Aviv engaging seriously with the Palestinian peace pro­cess. After all, Iran is one of the few things that Arabs and Israelis agree on. Any such deal would be a major accomplishment and repre­sents a complete and unexpected change in the Middle East.

An agreement such as this would see Israel work with Arab Sunnis in confronting Iranian aggression and would ultimately even clamp down on religious extremism, something that is a threat to the region and beyond. Washington seems to believe that peace and coexistence between Arabs and Jews require joint inter­ests and a common enemy, namely Tehran.

For Tel Aviv, Iran is a particular threat at the moment given that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is fighting in Syria, practically on Israel’s doorstep. Iran has raised the banner of what it calls resistance against Israel in an attempt to gain popularity across the region, even if those they are “resisting” are unarmed and innocent Syrians.

For Tel Aviv, a nuclear Iran repre­sents perhaps an existential threat. The same goes for Saudi Arabia. Although the nuclear deal aims to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, something that Washington has asserted on count­less occasions, neither Riyadh nor Tel Aviv put much stock in this.

Ultimately, it is impossible for Iran to be able to pursue real peace in the region because the legiti­macy of the regime is partly based on “exporting the revolution” and exploiting the issue of “resistance” against Israel.

Greater Arab-Israeli rapproche­ment would also serve economic interests. Capitalism is an eco­nomic philosophy that is self-serving and this is something that Arab Gulf states understand well. The Arab Gulf is not just made up of countries but also major global companies. If Israel is commit­ted to peace and accepts the Arab world’s terms, the Gulf will be more than able to establish a historic deal that will end a bitter Middle Eastern struggle that has lasted close to a century.

The Palestinian people need peace and an independent country to call their own, not rockets from Iran that will sow greater regional chaos and not benefit their own cause one whit. Peace in the Mid­dle East would also spell an end to the ambitions of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the Muslim Brotherhood and poten­tially eliminate political Islam and Islamic extremism, as represented by the black flag of the Islamic State.