JERUSALEM, March 12 (Reuters) – Saudi-Iranian hostages have dealt a blow to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to isolate Tehran.
A more pressing concern for Israel, some experts argue, is that Friday’s Chinese-brokered deal between top Sunni and Shiite Muslim powers marks a US landing in the region at a time when the Netanyahu government needs it most.
An Israeli official, who did not want to be named, described the process as an unsurprising and preliminary process that would not impede any parallel progress toward normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia. After all, Israel has become closer to the UAE despite Abu Dhabi’s involvement in Tehran.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to make veiled threats to strike Iran alone if nuclear diplomacy is deemed deadlocked.
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But all scenarios still depend on Washington — a supporter of Israel-Arab peace accords and a sweet and protective ally that would be loathe to cross Israel if it shows red lights for military action.
This is a brilliant stroke by China and Iran to reduce Saudi-US and Saudi-Israeli default. It helps bring Tehran in from the cold and undermines US and Israeli efforts to build a regional alliance to counter Iran. making nuclear weapons,” said Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington.
However, there are unrelated strains in the Israeli-American alliance. President Joe Biden’s Democratic administration, which has yet to invite Netanyahu to the White House, has expressed unusually strong concern about his religious-nationalist alliance.
Netanyahu has been surrounded by unprecedented mass demonstrations in Israel against his judicial reforms. The protests have included pledges by some airmen not to show up for training, a signal that combat readiness and morale have been shaken.
A wake up call
Amos Yadlin, a former military intelligence chief under Netanyahu, said the Saudi-Iranian standoff should be a wake-up call.
“The government’s focus on a judicial overhaul that will fragment the nation and weaken Israel in all dimensions reflects a deep disconnect between Netanyahu and international geopolitical trends,” Yadlin said on Twitter.
Yadlin, who accused Netanyahu of “doing extraordinary damage to our national security,” said he should abandon the reforms — which critics call an attempt to subordinate the courts to the government — and teams closely with Biden on how to build Israeli-Saudi ties and jointly tackle Iran’s nuclear program.
Yadlin — one of the pilots who bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 and served as a top general during Israel’s 2007 attack on a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria — can’t spare much of Israel’s ability to go it alone against Iran. are distant, dispersed and guarded.
Similarly, former Netanyahu defense minister Ehud Barak, turned political commentator, described Iran as “confidently marching toward becoming a de facto nuclear entry state.”
“US-Israeli coordination appears to be strong in the security sector, but weak and in need of change in the criminal sector,” he wrote in the best-selling Yedioth Ahronoth daily.
Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons.
Aidan Ben-David, Netanyahu’s former deputy national security adviser, said Israel is developing the ability to take necessary unilateral military action with the US coalition and potential Gulf Arab alliances second priority.
Saudi Arabia was aware of the important role of the United States in the region and the value of bilateral relations with Israel, he said.
“Today, there is a serious effort to deepen and renew and advance these relations — with American involvement, of course, but also directly,” Ben-David told Israel’s Khan Public Radio.
The New York Times reported over the weekend that instead of normalizing ties with Israel, Riyadh wants to help build a civilian nuclear program and have fewer restrictions on US arms purchases.
Yadlin warned against Netanyahu, domestically politicized and at odds with the White House, giving in to such demands, “in his audacity to treat the Saudi peace plan as a feat”.
The Saudi government’s media office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the New York Times report. Saudi Arabia has linked any move by the kingdom to normalize relations with Israel to a resolution of Palestinian state goals.
For its part, the White House appeared to downplay China’s involvement in the development on Friday. Its national security spokesman John Kirby said the White House believes internal and external pressure, including Saudi Arabia’s effective deterrence against attacks from Iran or its proxies, ultimately brought Tehran to the table.
Written by Dan Williams, edited by William McLean
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