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by Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum
There is much speculation on a warming of relations, and even collaboration, between Saudi Arabia and Israel in the aftermath of the Iran nuclear deal. Both countries perceive a nuclear Iran to be a great threat. However, given its history and concern for the legitimacy of its rule, the Saudi royal family is more likely to draw closer to Iran than to Israel.
The implications of the confluence of interests between Riyadh and Jerusalem should not be overstated. Saudi Arabia is not about to give up its position in the Islamic world by forming an alliance with Israel, the perceived enemy of Islam. Yet quiet cooperation should not be ruled out. In the event of an Israeli attack on Iran, Saudi Arabia could stand down its radar. It could offer refueling and search and rescue backup for Israeli pilots. Above all, it could step up intelligence sharing with Jerusalem. In the future, the US could mediate possible cooperation in missile defense between Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other countries of the GCC.
Theoretically, there is no reason that an anti-ballistic missile battery based in Saudi Arabia or Qatar could not intercept a missile launched at Israel from Iran. But such cooperation is extremely risky for the regime and would require a greater degree of trust in Israel than Riyadh probably has.
When it comes to Israel, the Saudis will continue to balance their national security considerations with their internal and regional legitimacy concerns. The political cost of improving relations with Israel is much higher than improving relations with Iran. Even though the Saudi Wahhabis have no love for Iranian Shiites, the latter are at least Muslims. A bit of bandwagoning with Iran will therefore most likely be the order of the day. In any case, the Kingdom knows that the US, for its own reasons, will have its back.
As for the Israelis, the public diplomacy and psychological operations value of leaking meetings with the Saudis is limited and counter-productive. Israeli leaders would we well advised to keep these arrangements under the tightest of wraps, lest the Saudis ditch them entirely.
Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum, a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, is a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University, and a visiting fellow and contributor to the Task Force on Islamism and International Order at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. He is an expert on the Gulf States, particularly Saudi Arabia.
BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 228, December 17, 2013
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