Saturday, June 12, 2010

Did the Saudis consent to open airspace for Israel to reach Iran?

"Saudi Arabia denies Times report on airspace clearance," Yediot Aharanot @ updates. June 12, 2010.

"Report: Israel can cross Saudi airspace," United Press International (UPI). June 12, 2010.

Is this plausible, or would the Saudis never do this, as some have suggested? But wouldn't they deny it even if they did?

Last summer, the Obama administration was asking the Saudi government to let Israel fly through its airspace as a "normalization gesture." They flatly rejected the idea. Saudi Arabia should know that Iran and other revisionist powers in the region represent a greater threat to regional stability and their regime than Israel--the country that, day in and day out, is publicly touted as the most vicious bully in the neighborhood.  Are they willing and able to act accordingly?

Tzipi Livni at least maintains that the Saudis have offered their tacit support for a number of Israeli military operations, if only by refraining from criticizing them. None of Syria's neighbors seem to care when Israel attacked its nuclear facilities in 2007. Some Arab analysts  have explained their grave concerns about the prospects of a nuclear Iran. Many observers argue that the dominant cleavage in the Middle East is now between Iran and its revolutionary Islamist clients on the one hand, and the largely status quo Arab states (excepting Syria). See Barry Rubin for example.

But beating the drums against the Zionist menace is just so good for business. Can any Muslim ruler facing serious challenges at home stay in power without it? To publicly collaborate with the Zionist enemy, no matter how much it may be in a country's national interest, seems politically impossible.

I have heard many security analysts and strategists suggest that the Gulf countries and others--rightly fear Iran more than Israel, and quietly support Israel's efforts to deter Iran. A December 2009 public opinion poll found that "a clear majority in 18 Arab countries now thinks Iran poses a greater threat to security in the Middle East than Israel," as Michael Totten interprets a YouGov's (hosts of Doha Debates) numbers.

I've often wondered if wishful thinking was clouding these assessment in some way though. My sense is that, if the Saudi government were really about playing a productive role, they would make some effort to stop financing Jew-hating clerics, mosques, Jew-hating daycare, etc. all around the world.

See subsequent stories that seem to be related:

"Saudis upgrade fighter jets," Arieh O'Sullivan. Jerusalem Post. June 13, 2010

"Ahmadinejad: Israel, U.S. trying to sabotage Iran's relations with Saudi Arabia," Haaretz. June 13, 2010.