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

Former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faisal and retired Israeli Major General Yaakov Amidror together at a Washington event hosted by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Photo: Youtube).

Former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faisal and retired Israeli Major General Yaakov Amidror together at a Washington event hosted by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Photo: Youtube).

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.

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.”

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.

  1. 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.

  1. Aggression

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.

  1. Religious Discrimination

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

Israel is considered the homeland for the Jewish people, and the Basic Laws of Israel that serve in place of a constitution define the country as a Jewish state. Jews get preferential treatment, such as the right to immigrate to Israel from anywhere and automatically become citizens, while Muslims face daily discrimination and are treated as second-class citizens.

In Saudi Arabia, Mecca is the holiest city for Muslims, and the Saudi kingdom considers itself the global center of Islam. Only Muslims can become Saudi citizens, and non-Muslims are treated like second-class citizens.

  1. Violent Exports

Both countries export “products” that promote violence. Israel is a major exporter of weapons, and Israeli forces often train police in other countries — including the United States — in repressive techniques. The Saudis export the extremist Sunni ideology called Wahhabism all over the Middle East and North Africa. Wahhabism is the ideological basis of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

  1. Hatred of Iran

More than anything else, it’s a shared hatred of Iran that’s bringing these adversaries together. Both view Iran as an existential threat and fear Tehran’s growing influence in the region. They both opposed the Iran nuclear deal that was such a great win for diplomacy over war, and they share a determination to stop the United States from getting any closer to Iran.

  1. Support for Egypt’s Coup

Both nations supported the military coup in Egypt, led by General Adbul Fattah el Sisi, which overthrew a democratically elected government and led to a brutal wave of repression that put 40,000 dissidents in prison. The Saudis have stepped in with billions of dollars to fill the Sisi regime’s coffers, and Egypt has collaborated with Israel in Israel’s continued siege of Gaza.

  1. Intervention in Syria

Both Israel and Saudi Arabia are more concerned with overthrowing the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad (who’s aligned with Iran) than defeating the Islamic State. To that end, they’ve been supporting extremist groups in Syria like the Nusra Front, which is an al-Qaeda affiliate.

The Saudis have sent weapons and money to Nusra. For its part, Israel has been treating wounded Nusra fighters in Israeli hospitals and then sending them back to battle the Syrian army. Israel also killed Lebanese and Iranian advisers who were assisting Assad’s government in fighting against Al Nusra.

(Photo: CodePink)

(Photo: CodePink)

  1. Young Political Prisoners

Both nations lock up thousands of political prisoners, including minors. In February 2016, Israel had 6,204 Palestinians in prison, 438 of them minors. Many of the minors are imprisoned for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. The Saudis have beheaded minors, and presently have three prisoners facing execution who were arrested as juveniles for nonviolent protests.

  1. Robust Washington Lobbies

They both spend many millions of dollars to influence U.S. policy.

The Israeli government enjoys the backing of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is often considered the most influential foreign policy lobby group in the United States.

The Saudis have just started their own version called SAPRAC, or the Saudi American Public Relations Affairs Committee. For years they’ve been buying influence by contracting influential public relations and law firms like the Podesta Group and donating to the Clinton Foundation, the Carter Foundation, and dozens of think tanks and Ivy League universities.

  1. Alliances with the United States

Finally, both countries are long-time allies of the United States. Subsequent U.S. administrations have supported Israel since its founding in 1948; they’ve also supported an array of Saudi kings since the founding of that nation in 1932.

The U.S. has helped guarantee the security of both nations. U.S. taxpayers give over $3 billion a year to support the Israeli military, the U.S. military guards the Persian Gulf for the Saudi royalty, and Saudi Arabia is the No. 1 purchaser of U.S. weapons.

Some say it’s good for Israel and Saudi Arabia to bury the hatchet and find common ground. But peace in the Middle East won’t be furthered by the causes they’re collaborating on.

Instead, Israel has to make peace with the Palestinians, and Saudi Arabia has to come to terms with Iran. Otherwise, Saudi-Israeli collusion will only be a fatal embrace that causes more heartbreak for the region.

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human rights organization Global Exchange. She is the author of a forthcoming book about Saudi Arabia entitled The Unjust Kingdom and is the author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

  • Hugejass

    CODEPINK and this author are as venomous and anti-US as Hamas. I could debate the crap out of this web of lies and Israel hatred. Codepink support BDS which is an anti-Semitic movement to eridate the Jewish state of Israel. Resist CODEPINK, Americans… they don’t represent anything good.

    • Luis

      The biblical Hebrews were an African race, the present day Zionist are Europeans, the Semites are those that used the Semitic languages. If someone is a Roman Catholic that doesn’t make that person a Roman.

      • Owen Rockwell

        what exactly does this have to do with anything Hugejass said?

  • Nick

    this article is so twisted I don’t know where to begin, they are working together against an agressive Iran. As for the so called Palestinians they should have built a country by now rather than attacing innocent civilians.they deserve what they get. and the Egyptian coup was taking the country back from the Muslim Brotherhood which is excellent. And Iran was behind the Yemen thing and Saudi Arabia is pushing Iran back out. Iran wants to overthrow both Israel and saudi Arabia and that is why they are joined up

    • TecumsehUnfaced

      But the Palestinians got their country stolen by the invading European Ashkenazi colonists.

    • tenebrae

      >>>” the so called Palestinians”

      Genocide by conceptual means.

      It isn’t enough for Zionist ultra-nationalists to commit mass murderous acts of ethnic cleansing. They must also cast their victims as untermenschen whose very identity is denied.
      The Nazis never denied that the Jews actually had an identity.

      In the post-Westphalian system of nation-states the ONLY thing which matters is legal definition and diplomatic recognition.

      Everything else with regards “Zionism” is military colonial myth-making and ultra-nationalist, religiously lunatic blood and soil fantasy.

      All nation states in the modern period have constructed their populist nationalistic identities through a process of “imagined communities” (Benedict Anderson) and “invented traditions” (Eric Hobsbawm).

      “passed by a vote of 138 to 9 on November 29, 2012.”

      “The General Assembly,
      Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and stressing in this regard the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples,”

      “Recalling its resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947,

      Reaffirming the principle, set out in the Charter, of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force,”

      “Reaffirming also its resolutions 43/176 of 15 December 1988 and 66/17 of 30 November 2011 and all relevant resolutions regarding the Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine, which, inter alia, stress the need for the withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, primarily the right to self-determination and the right to their independent State, a just resolution of the problem of the Palestine refugees in conformity with resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948 and the complete cessation of all Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem,

      http://www.cfr.org/palestine/un-general-assembly-resolution-67l28-palestine/p29574

      As of 14 September 2015, 136 (70.5%) of the 193 member states of the United Nations and two non-member states have recognised the State of Palestine. Many of the countries that do not recognise the State of Palestine nevertheless recognise the PLO as the “representative of the Palestinian people”. On 29 November 2012, the UN General Assembly passed a motion changing Palestine’s “entity” status to “non-member observer state” by a vote of 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions.[3][4][5][6]

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_recognition_of_the_State_of_Palestine

  • Nick

    it is all about control of the oil, Iran has taken over Iraq and are fighting in syria via Hezbollah and controls Lebanon because that is where the pipeline is. and now they want to take over Saudi Arabia as well think about it.

  • Victor

    “if Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons” (W. Churchill)

  • Phil Nunez

    Wow, all the pro-Israel trolls out in full force……..

    • Chris Reed

      Doesn’t Israel cozy upping with the Saudis undercut their plank? Also, as the article suggests, it is the US that is at fault for encouraging these countries. Iran has more than a few faults, but it is unlikely that the non-aligned movement would choose to hold their seat in either of these two countries.

  • Reinhard Koenen

    As a German, born at the beginning of World War II and living in LA for nearly 40 years now, I may have a “twisted feeling” about Israel, but I cannot help considering Israel as a non-democratic country.

    • Owen Rockwell

      That’s shocking, especially since Israel has Arab and Druze members in the Knesset, and in prominent positions in the military. The country also has universal health care for every man, woman, and child; no matter their religion. This is a bunch of propaganda (codepink.)

      • CityCalmDown

        Tel Aviv is a military colonial government that rules over 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza who are besieged. And 2 million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank.

        These Palestinians are not citizens of the State which governs and colonises them. This is military ethnic cleansing and apartheid.

        • Osmo Joronen

          Jews tried land for peace with Gaza. They moved out lock stock and barrel, hoping for peace. Businesses moved, families moved, as a requirement for peace. Then a new government of extremists was voted in and they began firing rockets into Israel. Why would the Israelis move out just so they can start killing the people? It doesn’t make sense. Israelis are not the agressoers in that conflict, but hey do retaliate and people do get killed because they use human shields, even schools and hospitals to fire upon the Israelis. You’ve been listening to Arab propaganda in this case. And what about the five Arab nations that tried to destroy Israel in 1948-49 but lost, and Israelis captured land then when the Arabs ran away from the war – east, out of the way so the Arabs could slaughter the Israelis. It failed and Israel kept the land won in battle. They want Israel destroyed. If you were the leader of Israel, what would you do now? Land for peace like Gaza, or…?

          • CityCalmDown

            1/Israel was instrumental in the creation of Hamas. They were to be used as a foil against Fatah. Once again Israeli interference must be taken into account whenever we consider Palestinian affairs.
            “”Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation,” says Mr.Cohen, a Tunisian-born Jew who worked in Gaza for more than two decades.
            Responsible for religious affairs in the region until 1994,””Instead of trying to curb Gaza’s Islamists from the outset, says Mr. Cohen, Israel for years tolerated and, in some cases, encouraged them as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its dominant faction, Yasser Arafat’s Fatah. Israel cooperated with a crippled, half-blind cleric named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, even as he was laying the foundations for what would become Hamas. Sheikh Yassin continues to inspire militants today;”

            2/Israel had absolutely no right to be colonizing the Gaza Strip. All their actions in Gaza were illegal.

            3/Israel scorch earthed Gaza upon leaving it.

            4/Israel then tried to organize a coup against Hamas after Hamas won the Gazan elections.

            5/It is blatantly false that Israel’s actions are “defensive”. They are offensive and colonial. They have been from the very outset. 1948 onwards.

            6/What has become the dominant position in Israeli politics is the ultra-Zionist position of Eretz Israel. Again, Eretz Israel has been a Zionist project and position from the beginning.
            This can be clearly seen from the Likud Charter which completely rejects ANY two-state solution.
            Which involves the complete expulsion of the indigenous Palestinian inhabitants.

            “(…)from the Likud Platform of 1999:
            a. “The Jordan river will be the permanent eastern border of the State of Israel.”
            b. “Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel.
            The government will flatly reject Palestinian proposals to divide Jerusalem”
            c. “The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.”
            d. “The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting.”

            h t t p :/ /w w w .j u a n co l e .c o m / 2 0 14 / 0 8 / c h a r t er -destruction-palestinian . h t m l

            7/New Gas reserves have been found in the Seas off the Gazan coast. This material economic reason informs Israeli Gazan policy. The Israelis both want to exploit these gas reserves themselves. And to deny the Gazans this natural resource.

            h t t p s : / / w w w . t h e g u a r d i a n . c o m / e n v i r o n m e n t / e a r t h -i n sight / 2 0 1 4 / j u l /0 9 /i srael-war-gaza-palestine-natural-gas-energy-crisis

            h t t p s : / / e l e c t r o n i c i n t i f a d a . n e t / b l o g s / c h a r l o t t e- silver / israels-sea-blockade-gaza-motivated-gas-finds

          • CityCalmDown

            WTF was the military colonial government of Tel Aviv doing building illegal settlements in the Gaza Strip in the first place?

            If I cut off your arm and then “graciously” gave it back to you, would that sublime act of magnanimity transform us into “partners for peace”?

          • CityCalmDown

            “”Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation,” says Mr. Cohen, a Tunisian-born Jew who worked in Gaza for more than two decades. Responsible for religious affairs in the region until 1994, Mr. Cohen watched the Islamist movement take shape, muscle aside secular Palestinian rivals and then morph into what is today Hamas, a militant group that is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

            Instead of trying to curb Gaza’s Islamists from the outset, says Mr. Cohen, Israel for years tolerated and, in some cases, encouraged them as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its dominant faction, Yasser Arafat’s Fatah. Israel cooperated with a crippled, half-blind cleric named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, even as he was laying the foundations for what would become Hamas.”

            h t t p : / / w w w .w s j . c o m / a r t i c l e s / S B 1 2 3 2 7 5 5 7 2 295011847

            “Israel Created Two of Its Own Worst Enemies—Hamas and Hezbollah”

            h t t p : / / w w w . w r m e a . o r g / 2 0 0 2 – n o v e m b e r / i s r a e l – c r e a t e d – t w o- of-its-own-worst-enemies-hamas-and-hezbollah . h t m l

            “according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials, beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years.

            Israel “aided Hamas directly — the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization),” said Tony Cordesman, Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies.

            Israel’s support for Hamas “was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative,” said a former senior CIA official.”

            h t t p : / / w w w . informationclearinghouse . info / a rticle 1 0 4 5 6 . h t m

            “An American intelligence report discussing relations between Israel and Hamas was recently published by the news leak website Wikileaks.

            In the leaked document, dated September 23, 1988, U.S. intelligence officials say,

            “Many in the West Bank believe that Israel actively supports Hamas, in its effort to split the Palestinian nation and weaken the Intifada.”

            The document also notes that although Israel was arresting a number of Palestinians at the time, very few were members of Hamas. The document went so far as to say,

            “We believe that not only does Israel turn a blind eye on Hamas activity, but even supports it.”

            You reap what you sow. There are countless examples of countries supporting groups that end up coming back to bite them in the ass (the U.S.-trained mujahideen are a good example).”

            h t t p : / / thehigherlearning . com / 2 0 1 4 / 0 8 / 1 0 / liberators-or-terrorists-the-origins-and-history-of-israel-and-hamas /

            “Speaking in Jerusalem Dec. 20, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer made the connection between the growth of the Islamic fundamentalist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and Israel’s promotion of the Islamic movement as a counter to the Palestinian nationalist movement. (…)
            Kurtzer said that the growth of the Islamic movement in the Palestinian territories in recent decades—”with the tacit support of Israel”—was “not totally unrelated” to the emergence of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and their terrorist attacks against Israel. Kurtzer explained that during the 1980s, when the Islamic movement began to flourish in the West Bank and Gaza, “Israel perceived it to be better to have people turning toward religion rather than toward a nationalistic cause [the Palestinian Liberation Organization—ed.].” It therefore did little to stop the flow of money to mosques and other religious institutions, rather than to schools.”

            h t t p : / / globalresearch . ca / articles / AND204A . h t m l

            “Israel funding Hamas, Olmert admits”

            h t t p : / / w w w . i s r a e l today . co . il / default . a s p x ? t a b i d = 1 7 8 & n i d = 16447 & h c _ location = u f i

            Tel Aviv is a military colonial government of conquest and colonisation. Tel Aviv are the architects of the military colonial policies which govern Israel proper, Gaza, and the Occupied Territories of the West Bank. These policies are of course radically different both in their letter and a fortiori in their brutal application as Tel Aviv is an ethnic cleansing, apartheid government. Tel Aviv bears *primary* responsibility for ALL of the violence, warfare and “terrorism” – BOTH Palestinian and Israeli illegal settler – in ALL of the territory that it governs including the territory that it besieges – Gaza – and that it occupies and colonises. – the West Bank.

            France and its colonial policies bore primary responsibility for the creation of the FLN and of the Viet Minh and later of the Viet Cong. Britain and its colonial policies bore primary responsibility for the creation and the nature of the all the anti-colonial, independence movements in its former colonies.

            This is the power relations of military conquest and colonisation 101.

          • CityCalmDown

            This website does not allow links And has the Disqus filter turned on.

            Links provided in my posts have spaces between letters to bypass filter.

            Please remove spaces in order to click link.

          • CityCalmDown

            “Land for peace”?

            Conquer land and build illegal military colonial settlements.

            Leave. Let the colonized peoples hold an election. Attempt and fail to organize a coup.

            And then subject them to a total air, water and land military siege.

            Finally, feed the outside world a line of total BS – and convince the gullible and imperialist – that this genocidal and criminal against humanity process called “land for peace”.

            Which failed. That the people who you are inflicting genocidal suffering upon are to blame for the military siege that you have inflicted.

            Having engineered a “failure” in the most cynical and sadistic fashion, you now have a ready-made excuse to continue with expansion of war criminal, ethnic cleansing military colonies in the West Bank.

            See? We gave them back their dead children ‘cos we’re so magnanimous. But it didn’t work.

      • CityCalmDown

        “In March 2013, Adalah launched the Discriminatory Laws Database, an online resource that collects more than 50 Israeli laws enacted since 1948 that directly or indirectly discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel in all areas of life, including their rights to political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources, and criminal procedures. Some of the laws also violate the rights of Palestinians living in the 1967 OPT and Palestinian refugees.”

        Please see “Adalah” database from whose website this quote was taken.

        (FPIF website disallows links in comments thread)

        “”The Knesset passed into law a bill that lets it oust a sitting lawmaker – legislation that critics say targets Arab lawmakers deemed to be inciting against Israel’s interests.
        According to the law, which was passed with a majority of 62 votes against 45, the Knesset can oust a lawmaker for incitement to racism and support of armed struggle against the state. The expulsion requires a majority of 90 lawmakers, while to launch expulsion proceedings, the votes of 70 of the Knesset’s 120 members are required, including 10 from the opposition. The original version of the bill only required 61 MKs to launch the proceedings, and not necessarily anyone from the opposition.
        Members of the Joint List of Arab parties said they intend to appeal the Supreme Court against the law.”

        (from Haaretz newspaper 20 July, 2016)

  • Luis

    If the sun was to go nova, well so much for the white
    supremacist, exceptionalism, Zionism, the chosen ones, the temple builders,
    wahhabism and all the other wackos we live with in this speck of dust of
    the universe.

  • fuster

    Benjamin remains someone who is stretched to the limits of her wisdom in attempting to figure out the best way to wipe her own sphincter

  • abrogard

    doesn’t look good, does it. hard to tell the good from the bad. but israel is manifesting ultimate cruelty to the palestinians. saudi has fomented, financed and continues to support daesh. america’s actions throughout the M.E. have always been so disastrous it’s hard to believe they weren’t deliberately so. Iran, Russia, Syria, were mainly just minding their own business. Russia and Syria protect Christian minorities, which is a thing I like. Iran opposes Sunni extremism, another thing i like.

    • Zenobia van Dongen

      Israel is clearly supporting Daesh because it considers Iran to be its most dangerous enemy. How come? Iran has no historical links to the Levant. The last time Persians invaded the area was before the Arab conquest. There are no Persian minorities in the Levant. Consequently Iran has no business meddling in Levantine affairs. If nonetheless Iran shrilly threatens to destroy Israel, it is from purely ideological grounds connected to the Mohammedan shrines in Jerusalem, and because Iran’s best hope of becoming a leader of the Islamic world is to profile itself as Israel’s worst enemy.
      But these are not legitimate foreign policy goals.
      Besides, Iran itself brought on the Saudi assault on the Houthis by ostentatiously trumpeting its alleged control of 4 Arab capitals (Sanaa, Beirut, Baghdad and Damascus).
      In other words the problem is Iranian imperialism.

      • abrogard

        Iranian Imperialism. I’ve heard that here and there and I’m not impressed by it as a driver for all the things that’ve been put in train in recent times and now.

        It’s a vague argument. A prediction as much as anything. A bogeyman prediction.

        And it does that thing I hate most: conflate a bunch of ‘leaders’ and their ambitions with the lives and hopes of their ordinary citizens.

        That’s the way we’re all driven to massacre each other in these futile wars generation after generation.

        I’d say you’re anti Iran judging by your statement: “Iran brought it on the assault…..” Happy to accept murderous attacks as justified if someone says something you don’t like.

  • luis

    Well, the wahhabists and the zionists have come together,
    all that is needed are the exceptionalists, to make it the axis of pure evil.

  • N

    Death to the Zionists!