General Gad Eizenkot, the IDF Chief of Staff is not the most media savvy Israeli general, in fact he was often been criticized in Israel for not being as open to the Israeli press as some of his predecessors have been, and surely has hardly been open to the foreign press. Yet, a few days ago, in his office in the heart of the Israeli defense establishment complex in Tel Aviv , he granted a long and detailed interview to a Saudi Arabian publication in London, ILAF, and it was a very revealing interview, nothing like a polite chit chat. The general was instructed by his political bosses, PM Netanyahu and Defense Minister Lieberman to be interviewed and be as open as possible, and the loyal soldier did exactly that. Just think about the scenario-Israeli Chief of Staff, Saudi publication, and the discussion is not about the Palestinians, but about the common enemy-Iran. Surreal scene if it happened just few years, maybe even months ago, but what is really even more astounding is the fact, that the unimaginable scene of the past, seems so logical these days.
A Saudi-Israeli honeymoon? A Wahabbi-Jewish reconciliation? Well, not really, rather a combination of two other developments, one which has been in motion for some years, and one which was set in motion very recently. The first has to do with a gradual change in Israel’s posture and role in Middle Eastern politics, from being the ultimate bogey man of Arab politics, the inevitable pariah, to being an actor in the overall Middle East political game, being a participant from within, and not the threat from the outside. A slow process, mostly not public, far from completion and maybe not even irreversible, but one which subtle Middle East observers could very well detect. It has been the result of the political upheavals in the Middle East, the repercussions of the Arab Spring, the civil wars and chronic mayhem in some Arab countries, but also the growing disillusionment with the Palestinians and their constant expectations from the Arab world to go on with the conflict with Israel, at a time when priorities in Cairo and Riyadh, for example , are so different altogether. It is not, as some delusional Right Wing Israelis think, that the Arabs have lost all their interest in and attachment to the Palestinian predicament, it is the sense, that more Arabs than ever before simply put this predicament in a lower place in their list of concerns. And sure enough, there is, of course, the Iranian Shi’i Empire in the building, a huge shadow being cast over the entire region, the mostly Sunni Muslim Arab region, and in particular, over Saudi Arabia. It is this shadow, which may have precipitated, though not created, the sense in the Saudi royal family that a change has to occur in the Kingdom, and the sooner the better, perhaps even the quickest the best. This blog has widely discussed and analyzed the rise of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, in fact the urgent, near panicky pace of his rise and changes. He does not need me to remind him, that, as the Arabs say, the haste is from the Devil, but he is in full speed and gear, that is to say, that he feels, that the danger from the East is acute, and the solution should accordingly be unprecedented. The Crown Prince wants to stem the rise of the Shi’i crescent, he wants to stop Iran, he wants to defeat Iran, and for that he needs allies. He knows, that Saudi Arabia alone cannot do it, probably he realizes what has been known for many outsiders for a long time, that his armed forces are weak, ineffectual and maybe even lacking morale. Money has been heavily invested, but even in Saudi Arabia they discover, much to their chagrin, that money is not everything. So, if allies are the subject of the search, surely there is Egypt, the Gulf sheikhdoms, excluding the naughty Qataris, and then the US? Obama was not there for the Saudis, who were not impressed with the humiliating bow of the newly-elected President to the late King Abdallah, and Trump runs a chaotic foreign policy, strong on words and weak on actions. So, is it to be Israel? Can it be Israel?
In the past, the Saudis as loyal Wahabbis and Arabs were in the forefront of the boycott of Israel, something which did not preclude members of their royal family, yes, even at the highest of all positions, to enjoy the services of good Israeli doctors, for example, but that was then. Now it is the survivability of the entire Kingdom which is the issue, and the stakes cannot be higher. There is flurry of reports about Israeli-Saudi rapprochement including formal, public utterances by official Saudi dignitaries about Israel, which are so different from the past, as well as public, specific official statements from Israeli politicians, the latest being Minister Steinitz public admission, that there are covert Saudi -Israeli contacts. It is Iran, that is certainly the case, and it is the old dictum of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but it is the Middle East, and always words of caution are in place-let us not be ahead of ourselves. We know very little as to what is actually happening, though we are flooded with speculations, and some of them are such, that the very fact, that they may seem logical, is in itself an indication of ‘’something’’ big happening. I, for one, do not buy the report, that Saudi Arabia tries to bribe Israel with billions of dollars on the table, to launch a preemptive, devastating strike on Hizballah in Lebanon and Syria. This is not how Israel works, surely not how Netanyahu does. I am more inclined to give credence to the possibility of Israel already sharing precious intelligence with Prince Muhammad, not suggesting to do it in the future, as did General Eizenkot, for example, notifying the Prince, with supportive convincing evidence about plots to remove him, probably to assassinate him. Surely, I believe it very realistic, that the Saudis are trying to cook a more comfortable Israeli-Palestinian deal to Israel than to Abbas, in order to lead Netanyahu to a military action against Iran and its proxies. In the past, under Obama, Netanyahu ignored American pressures to ease up on Iran, in return to a more convenient Palestinian deal brokered by the US. It is shaping up as the opposite case these days-Saudi Arabia, probably with the US on board, wants Israel to toughen up on Iran, in fact, to go to the extreme, in order to be rewarded with a more comfortable Palestinian deal.
Be it as it may, Prince Muhammad Bin Salman and PM Netanyahu may already know what we can only speculate about.