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Israel and Saudi Arabia: Strange Bedfellows in the New Middle East

By       Message Medea Benjamin       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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Reprinted from Counterpunch


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On the surface, it would seem that Saudi Arabia and Israel would be the worst of enemies -- and indeed, they've never had diplomatic relations.

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After all, the Saudis have championed the cause of the Palestinians, who are oppressed by the Israelis. Israelis say they're besieged by Muslim extremists, and many of these extremists are motivated by the intolerant, Wahhabi ideology born and bred in Saudi Arabia.

But beneath the surface, these two old adversaries actually have a lot in common. In fact, in the contemporary Middle East, they've become the strangest of bedfellows.

Rumors about the budding relationship have been circulating for the past few years. In 2015, former Saudi and Israeli officials confirmed that they'd held a series of high-level meetings to discuss shared concerns, such as the growing influence of Iran in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon, as well as Iran's nuclear enrichment program. Shimon Shapira, an Israeli representative who participated in secret meetings with the Saudis, put it this way: "We discovered we have the same problems and same challenges and some of the same answers."

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On May 5, former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faisal and retired Israeli Major General Yaakov Amidror spoke together at a Washington event hosted by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy -- the policy wing of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC. The event, broadcast live online, showed that Saudi Arabia and Israel have finally come out of the closet -- together.

Here are some traits Saudi Arabia and Israel have in common.

Oppression

Both oppress the non-dominant groups living in their borders. Israel oppresses Palestinians, building settlements on their land and surrounding 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 (like Shiites and non-Muslims), as well as women and millions of migrant workers.

Both nations respond to political dissidents in similar ways, using excessive force, arbitrary and indefinite detention, intimidation, and torture.

Aggression

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Israel and Saudi Arabia have each invaded neighboring lands, killing thousands of civilians. 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 meanwhile interfered in the internal affairs of neighboring Yemen. In March 2015, they launched a vicious bombing campaign directed at Shiite rebels in the country. So far they've killed over 6,000 mostly civilian Yemenis. They've bombed markets, schools, hospitals, residences, and wedding parties, displacing over 2.5 million people.

Additionally, both use weapons that have been internationally banned: Israel used white phosphorus in Gaza, while the Saudis have used cluster bombs in Yemen.

Religious Discrimination

Religion plays a key role in the politics of both nations.

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Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace and author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection. 

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