This morning one of Israel's largest international news broadcasters broke an explosive yet not entirely surprising story that Israel would take the unprecedented step of sharing intelligence with Saudi Arabia as both countries continue to ramp up efforts to curb what they perceive as Iranian expansion in the region.
Left: Israeli PM Netanyahu, Right: Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Israel's i24NEWS cited statements by the head of the Israeli army given to a prominent Saudia Arabian newspaper on Thursday:
In an unprecedented interview with Saudi Arabia's Alaf newspaper on Thursday, Israel Defense Force (IDF) chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot said that Israel is ready to share intelligence with Riyadh on their shared arch-foe Iran.
Eizenkot, who is the first senior Israeli military officer to be interviewed by a Saudi media outlet, called Iran the "biggest threat to the region" and said that Israel and Riyadh - which he noted have never fought one another - are in complete agreement about Iran's intentions to dominate the Middle East.
The report continues, quoting the IDF chief:
The interview is a major public step forward in warming ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia - which do not share any diplomatic relations.
Eizenkot said that Iran wants to take control of the Middle East by creating two Shi'ite crescent, "from Lebanon to Iran and then from the Gulf to the Red Sea."
"We must prevent this from happening," he implored.
He said that Israel has no intention of initiating a conflict with Iran's Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, saying that "we see Iranian attempts at bringing about an escalation, but I don't see a high chance for this at the moment."
The historic news, which is worrisome for the fact that it could bring the region closer to major war, follows last week's leak of an Israeli diplomatic cable sent to all Israeli embassies throughout the world which reveals Israeli and Saudi behind the scenes coordination. The cable gave instructions to Israeli diplomats to express support for the Saudi war against Shia forces in Yemen and also urged embassies to aggressively lobby their host governments to take steps toward pushing Hezbollah out of Lebanon.
We summarized the now confirmed leaked document as follows:
- On Sunday, just after Lebanese PM Hariri's shocking resignation, Israel sent a cable to all of its embassies with the request that its diplomats do everything possible to ramp up diplomatic pressure against Hezbollah and Iran.
- The cable urged support for Saudi Arabia's war against Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.
- The cable stressed that Iran was engaged in "regional subversion".
- Israeli diplomats were urged to appeal to the "highest officials" within their host countries to attempt to expel Hezbollah from Lebanese government and politics.
1 \ I published on channel 10 a cable sent to Israeli diplomats asking to lobby for Saudis\Hariri &against Hezbollah https://t.co/AbeLPC35GP— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) November 6, 2017
And this week, another leaked document emerged, first obtained by Lebanon's Al-Akhbar news, which reveals, according to regional media, "concessions to Israel that are certain to prove controversial in Palestine and the Arab world if true, including Saudi encouragement of the Palestinians to cede the right of return of their refugees, in return for a peace deal with Israel and closer cooperation with Tel Aviv against Iran and Hizballah."
The 'secret' document is reportedly from the Saudi foreign ministry and provides further proof that Israel and Saudi Arabia - who for decades have been long time public bitter enemies - are increasingly cementing and formalizing their relationship while talking war with Iran and Hezbollah. According to a translation provided by The New Arab, the leaked Saudi foreign ministry document reads in part as follows:
"I have the honour to submit to you a project for establishing relations between the kingdom and the State of Israel based on the strategic partnership agreement with the United States of America, discussed with the US Secretary of State based on the guidance of your noble guidance," opens the letter.
"Saudi Arabia.... has immense influence and diplomatic power that can give credibility to peace efforts," the alleged letter continues.
"The kingdom had pledged in the strategic partnership agreement with US President Donald Trump that only a US-Saudi effort (for peace) is the key to success as... no solution to the Palestinian issue can be legitimate without the support of Saudi Arabia.
"Rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel carries risks... given the spiritual, historical, and religious status of the Palestinian issue. The kingdom cannot risk this move unless it feels the US is honest about its efforts against Iran, which destabilizes the region."
The more explosive passage of the secret Saudi document concerns Iran, and comes at the end of the memo, to wit: "Resolving this conflict will pave the way for security, commercial, and financial cooperation against Iran. Therefore, the Saudi and Israeli sides have the following (goals) in common:
- Confronting any activities that serve the aggressive policies of Iran in the Middle East.
- Increasing US and international sanctions over Iran's ballistic missile programme
- Increasing sanctions over Iran's sponsorship of terrorism around the world.
- Lobbying the 5+1 group over their position on the nuclear deal with Iran to ensure its strict implementation
- Limiting Iranian access to frozen assets, and capitalizing on Iran's economic problems to increase pressure on the regime
- Intelligence cooperation against organised crime and drug trafficking supported by Iran and Hizbollah"
All of the above is yet further confirmation of the already well-known Saudi and Israeli common cause against perceived Iranian influence and expansion in places like Syria, Lebanon and Iraq of late. This has led the historic bitter enemies down a pragmatic path of unspoken cooperation as both seem to have placed the break up of the so-called "Shia crescent" as their primary policy goal in the region. For Israel, Hezbollah has long been its greatest foe, which Israeli leaders see as an extension of Iran's territorial presence right up against the Jewish state's northern border.
All of this this comes, perhaps not coincidentally, at the very moment ISIS is on the verge of complete annihilation (partly at the hands of Hezbollah), and as both Israel and Saudi Arabia have of late increasingly declared "red lines" concerning perceived Iranian influence across the region as well as broad Hezbollah acceptance and popularity within Lebanon.