Stratfor looks at the strange Saudi – Israel alliance
Stratfor: There was a time when Saudi Arabia considered its enmity for Israel to be a mainstay of its power. But the shifting tides of geopolitics are steadily undercutting the value of conflict between the two. Perhaps nowhere is this change clearer than in an appearance last week by Israeli defense chief Gadi Eisenkot on a Saudi-owned TV station. During the Nov. 16 interview, Eisenkot declared Israel’s readiness to share intelligence with Saudi Arabia on Iran. Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz later reinforced his colleague’s comment, confirming that Israel’s ties with the kingdom were getting stronger...
Fear of Iran has certainly pulled the longtime adversaries closer together over the past few years, but it doesn’t explain Israeli officials’ recent decision to go public with their cooperation. The two countries have historically kept their efforts to counter Iran under wraps. Moreover, in the near term Saudi Arabia and Israel will not commit to joint military action or establish bases in each other’s territory — actions that would require a visible rapprochement. Instead the perks of publicity have more to do with domestic audiences, regional legitimacy and international influence.
For Saudi Arabia, an overt relationship with Israel serves as a bellwether of the population’s willingness to change. Such flexibility will be necessary as the crown prince embarks on a sweeping reform program and attempts to change the perception of the kingdom in the halls of the U.S. Congress and in the headlines of American newspapers. Notably, none of the recent revelations of cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Israel generated much backlash from either country’s populace.
The relatively calm response was particularly revealing to bin Salman, who hopes to gauge the attitudes and opinions of the kingdom’s large generation of youths. By doing so, he can tease out whether the country’s Wahhabi clerical establishment has the popular support needed to resist him and identify potential troublemakers who speak out against his policies. At the same time, the crown prince can refine and test his security services, who will be tasked with finding any dissidents.
A public relationship with a formidable military power like Israel would also help supplement Saudi Arabia’s green forces on the battlefield in Yemen, giving Iran pause as it considers its next move there. Defense cooperation could begin with intelligence sharing on Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, a longtime enemy of Israel that Saudi Arabia has accused of training Houthi militants in Yemen. Collaboration may even extend to joint training, maneuvers and interdictions of supplies from Iran to its regional allies that transit the Red Sea.
As an added perk, the crown prince can broadcast to the United States — still a key Saudi ally — that he is not an anti-Semite, buying himself some diplomatic cover from the growing international criticism of his war in Yemen. Weapons and advanced equipment that the United States currently denies the kingdom, such as the F-35 fighter jet, could even be made available if it becomes clear that Riyadh does not intend to use them against Israel >>>