Saudi: oddest ally Israel ever had

By John R Bradley, July 14, 2011
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Soldiers from the Saudi-backed Gulf Co-operation Council, which helped put down the uprising Bahrain

Soldiers from the Saudi-backed Gulf Co-operation Council, which helped put down the uprising Bahrain

At first glance, the consequences for Israel do not look good six months after the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.

This week, an Egyptian pipeline supplying gas to the country was bombed for the fourth time, while hundreds of Tunisians rallied in response to a rumour that the interim regime there was planning to normalise ties with the Jewish state.

Radical Islamists opposed to Israel's existence are in the ascendancy in both countries, as well as in chaotic Yemen, and they are the most likely group to take over if the Assad regime falls in Syria.

Still, while rich in symbolism, in the great geopolitical scheme of things what Tunisia does or does not do vis-à-vis Israel, or indeed any other country, makes little difference to anything.

Saudi’s media and schools spew antisemitic venom but it loathes Tehran as much as Tel Aviv

And for all the anti-Israel rhetoric flying from every corner of the political spectrum in Egypt as it gears up for presidential elections, the ruling Military Council has made one thing clear: come what may, the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel will not be scrapped.

Democracy or no democracy, the Egyptian generals will continue to dictate foreign policy, and their priority is not what the masses want but securing the $1.4 billion in military aid it gets from America annually. In fact, opinion polls continue to show that about half of Egyptians want the peace treaty to remain; and, as the country's post-revolutionary economy
disintegrates, almost no one wants all-out war.

The Assad regime in Syria, meanwhile, is hardly on the brink of collapsing. But even if it were to fall, a prolonged and bloody civil war would ensue. The last thing the Syrian army would be considering, as it battled to keep in power the regime it rules in partnership with, is launching a foreign war. If the Assad regime stays, it will be business as usual as far as Syria's approach to Israel and the issue of the Golan Heights is concerned: lots of talk but absolutely no action. If anything, domestic unrest has made foreign policy an even lower priority for Damascus.

More generally, Washington was never likely to reconsider its staunch support for either Tel Aviv or Cairo's generals. But it was even less inclined to do so as unrest rocked the region and containing Iran remained its top priority. In addition, the threat of unrest loomed in the world's top oil producer: Saudi Arabia.

Indeed, the drive to contain Iran was one reason Washington looked the other way when Tehran's arch-enemy, Saudi Arabia, sent in the tanks to crush the uprising in neighbouring Shia-majority Bahrain. It served two purposes: containing Iran and defusing the democratic fervour in the region.

Obama then did his Saudi friends the kindness of not mentioning them once in his much-trumpeted speech calling for greater democracy in the region in the wake of the Arab Spring, thereby implicitly giving the green light to the Al-Saud's predictably ruthless crackdown on dissent at home as well.

The result on all sides is tried-and-tested hypocrisy in the name of political pragmatism.

To contain Iran, Israel sides with a Saudi regime whose media and education system spews antisemitic venom of a kind not known since the Nazis, but which loathes Tehran just as much as Tel Aviv does and poses no military threat to the Jewish state.

Washington, meanwhile, continues to arm to the teeth Saudi Arabia's ruling family - the most anti-democratic regime on earth, apart from North Korea - while calling for swift democratic change elsewhere in the region.

For as long as this bizarre American-Israeli-Saudi political axis continues to hold tight, democracy stands no chance of gaining a foothold anywhere in the region.

John R Bradley's new book, 'Tunisian Tsunami', will be published in December by Palgrave Macmillan

Last updated: 12:56pm, July 14 2011