Reprinted from Consortium News
Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan (left) and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (right).
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According to an Israeli media report, Saudi Arabia has agreed to let Israeli warplanes fly over Saudi territory to save fuel while attacking Iranian nuclear sites, the latest indication of how the two former enemies have developed a behind-the-scenes alliance that is reshaping geopolitics in the Middle East.
"The Saudi authorities are completely coordinated with Israel on all matters related to Iran," a European official in Brussels told Israel's Channel 2 in a report broadcast on Tuesday and described in other Israeli media outlets.
Disclosure of this Israeli-Saudi military cooperation also comes as the United States and five other world powers rush to finish an agreement with Iran to curtail but not eliminate its nuclear program, which Iran says is only for civilian purposes. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to appear before the U.S. Congress on March 3 to undercut President Barack Obama's negotiations.
The reported Saudi permission for Israeli warplanes to take a shorter route to bomb Iran also suggests that Netanyahu may be laying the groundwork for his own plans to attack the Iranian nuclear sites if the international negotiations are successful. Netanyahu has denounced a possible deal as an "existential threat" to Israel.
In recent years, Israel and Saudi Arabia have quietly begun cooperating on a range of mutual interests with the goal of blunting Iran's regional influence. For instance, they have sided with rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an Iranian ally, even if the victors might be Islamist radicals affiliated with al-Qaeda or the Islamic State.
Elements of the Saudi royal family have long been known to support Islamist militants, including forces associated with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that convicted al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui identified leading members of the Saudi government as financiers of the terrorist network.
According to the story, Moussaoui said in a prison deposition that he was directed in 1998 or 1999 by Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan to create a digital database of the group's donors and that the list included Prince Turki al-Faisal, then Saudi intelligence chief; Prince Bandar bin Sultan, longtime Saudi ambassador to the United States; Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, a prominent billionaire investor; and many leading clerics.
"Sheikh Osama wanted to keep a record who give money," Moussaoui said in imperfect English -- "who is to be listened to or who contributed to the jihad." Moussaoui also said he discussed a plan to shoot down President George W. Bush's Air Force One with a Stinger missile with a staff member at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, at a time when Bandar was the ambassador to the United States and considered so close to the Bush family that his nickname was "Bandar Bush."
Moussaoui claimed, too, that he passed letters between Osama bin Laden and then Crown Prince Salman, who recently became king upon the death of his brother King Abdullah.
While the Saudi government denied Moussaoui's accusations, Saudi and other Persian Gulf oil sheikdoms have been identified in recent years as financial backers of Sunni militants fighting in Syria to overthrow Assad's largely secular regime, with al-Qaeda's Nusra Front the major rebel force benefiting from this support.
Shared Israeli Interests
The Israelis also have found themselves on the side of these Sunni militants in Syria because the Israelis share the Saudi view that Iran and the so-called "Shiite crescent" -- reaching from Tehran to Beirut -- is the greatest threat to their interests.
In September 2013, Israel's Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, then a close Netanyahu adviser, told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad. "The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc," Oren told the Jerusalem Post in an interview.
"We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren't backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran." He said this was the case even if the "bad guys" were affiliated with al-Qaeda.
In June 2014, speaking as a former ambassador at an Aspen Institute conference, Oren expanded on his position, saying Israel would even prefer a victory by the brutal Islamic State over continuation of the Iranian-backed Assad in Syria. "From Israel's perspective, if there's got to be an evil that's got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail," Oren said.