Israel and Saudi Arabia: strange bedfellows?

21 May 2016 10:57 am

One of the most fascinating developments in the Middle East is the growing connection between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Strange bedfellows but it makes sense.

As reported here, a number of nations, including Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Egypt, are interested in restarting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations based on the Arab Peace Initiative that was endorsed in 2002 and re-endorsed in 2007.

A highly regarded Saudi analyst has been claiming that Saudi Arabia is acquiring drones from Israel via South Africa.

On May 5, former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faisal and retired Israeli Major General Yaakov Amidror chatted at a Washington event hosted by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy — the policy wing of the pro-Israel lobby. Saudi Arabia and Israel seem to be coming out of the closet –– together.

There are some good reasons why this is happening.

For a start, both countries oppress non-dominant groups living in their borders. Israel oppresses Palestinians. It builds settlements on their land and surrounds their villages with apartheid walls and heavily armed soldiers. Saudi Arabia has set up a political and judicial system that oppresses everyone who’s not Sunni. Just talk to the Shiites and non-Muslims, not to mention women and millions of migrant workers. Both nations respond to political dissidents in similar ways. Both use excessive force, arbitrary and indefinite detention and intimidation.

Secondly, both have invaded neighbouring countries. Israel has been recurrently invading and bombing Gaza since 2008. In 2014 alone the Israeli military killed 2,104 people — most of them civilians — and destroyed 17,200 homes and left 475,000 living in emergency conditions. The Saudis have been bombing neighbouring Yemen. The military intervention that began one year ago has killed an estimated 6400 people, half of them civilians, injured 30,000 more and displaced 2.5 million,

Both practice religious discrimination. Israel is considered the homeland for the Jewish people. The Basic Laws of Israel serving in place of a constitution define the country as a Jewish state. Under these laws, Jews get preferential treatment, such as the right to immigrate to Israel from anywhere and automatically become citizens. Muslims on the other hand face daily discrimination and are treated as second-class citizens. In Saudi Arabia, Mecca is the holiest city for Muslims and only Muslims can become Saudi citizens. Non-Muslims are treated like second-class citizens.

Both export violence. Israel is a major exporter of weapons, and Israeli forces have trained police in other countries including the United States. The main export out of Saudi Arabia, apart from oil, is Wahhabism, the ideological foundation of Al Qaeda and Islamic State. They export it all over the Middle East and North Africa.

Both countries hate Iran. Both opposed the Iran nuclear deal and want to stop the United States from getting any closer to Iran.

Both are more concerned with overthrowing the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad (who’s aligned with Iran) than defeating the Islamic State. The Saudis have sent weapons and money to Nusra. For its part, Israel has treated Nusra fighters in Israeli hospitals and then sent them back to battle the Syrian army.

Both have political prisoners including minors. In February 2016, Israel had 6204 Palestinians in prison, 438 of them minors. Many of the minors are imprisoned for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. The Saudis have beheaded minors. Three prisoners facing execution in Saudi Arabia were arrested as juveniles for nonviolent protests.

And finally, both have very strong relations with the US.

That doesn’t mean the two countries are getting together. As Zvi Bar’el writes in Ha’aretz, Saudi Arabia isn’t near establishing ties with Israel, and Egypt isn’t near normalizing ties with Israel despite tensions between Cairo and Ankara. Israel is still presumed an enemy of Arab countries.

The bottom line is that peace won’t come to the Middle East until Israel and the Palestinians make peace and Saudi Arabia resolves its differences with Iran. Unless that happens, the collusion between the two countries will only lead to more heartbreak in the region.