The U.S. is promoting a military alliance among Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Turkey in order to counter what they perceive as an Iranian threat.
The US-brokered plan is to build a “moderate crescent” of allied states that share an interest in countering Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “The plan is to start with information-sharing about Iran’s ballistic missiles,” an Israeli official said.
Israel, he said, believed President Barack Obama had no appetite for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. “That’s why the Americans are working on a regional alliance to deter and contain Tehran,” he said. Under the plan, the Israelis would have access to real-time data from radar stations in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
In return, Israel would provide access to its advanced anti-missile defence systems and early warning radar, which would be shared online with its new partners. Israeli Arrow anti-missile interceptors would shield Jordan against incoming Iranian missiles.
The alliance, which is being called the “4 + 1,” would be a surprising one given the often hostile relationships of the four Muslim countries to Israel. In the first Iraq War, the U.S. went to great lengths to prevent Israel from retaliating after it had been shelled by Saddam Hussein, because any Israeli participation in the war would have greatly alienated the Arab members of the American coalition, probably to the point of causing their resignation. Also,
… Saudi Arabia and the UAE have no diplomatic relations with Israel and diplomatic ties to Turkey have been downgraded since the Gaza flotilla raid in 2010, in which eight Turkish activists died.
Israel has had various agreements with all of the four Muslim countries (mostly unpublicized), but an open military alliance against another Muslim country would have been unthinkable until recently. In the end this plan may just be wishful thinking by the Americans, but the possibility of closer cooperation, even military cooperation, between Israel the other nations in the future is a possibility worth considering.
Despite the view of the quoted Israeli official that containment and not military action is the purpose of the “4 + 1” alliance, mutual self-protection agreements have a way of turning offensive. Although the proposed agreement is described as a solely defensive one, a closer relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia may lead the Saudis to eventually permit the Israelis to fly over their territory if the Israelis decide to bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities.
Saudi Arabia has been a direct competitor of Iran for hegemony among Muslim nations in the region. It is no secret that it fears Iranian nuclear activity, which it believes include a weapons program. Some contend the friction between the two regional powers is further fueled by religious antagonism: Iran is mostly Shi’a and the Saudis are predominately Sunni Muslims.
The UAE also has quarrels with Iran. It has been in a long-running territorial dispute over some islands in the Persian Gulf which it claims Iranians occupy illegally.
Saudi Arabian and UAE participation in a U.S.-led naval exercise in the Gulf this month, (see here and here) is an indication of their present nervousness about Iran and desire to a seek closer alignment with the West. Despite the fact that no official list of the participating countries is available, it has been rumored many Gulf states are involved in the U.S. naval drills.
Russia and Iran have rightly denounced the drills, in which 42 nations will take part, as a highly provocative show of force. The United States denies that the these exercises are intended to send a message to Iran.
In addition to an alliance to confront Iran, the “4 + 1” could easily become a Western-backed partnership to combat the Shi’ite alliance of Iran/Syria/Hezbollah with a “moderate” Sunni partnership aided by the immense firepower of the Israelis. The Israelis list Iran and Hezbollah as their most hated enemies and their recent attacks near Damascus have shown the Assad government in Syria is now part of that list. Turkey, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have given financial support to the rebel forces in Syria and like the Israelis, are interested in the United States taking a more active role in deposing Bashar Assad.
On Monday, the nightly television news on the Israeli public broadcasting network, aired a clip of a Saudi analyst named Anwar Ashki who described the current U.S. led naval exercise in the Gulf as “almost definitely aimed at Iran.” He then declared that, “If Israel wants to attack Iran or bomb them, the Gulf states will stand with them [Israel].” It was no surprise that the Israeli commentator appeared both astonished and gleeful at the conclusion of the clip. Ashki is not a government official, but I do not believe that a Saudi analyst would be making these statements on Israeli television if they were not known to be compatible with the current government position. The times and alliances could be changing.
Regime change in Syria and combatting Iranian nuclear and hegemonic aspirations are two goals which the Muslim states and U.S./Israel hold in common. And playing ball with the U.S in the current unipolar world is good for business. It is also good for receiving military aid as last week’s announcement of arms agreements between the U.S with Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. shows. But the one point of intense disagreement between the Muslim nations and the Israelis is on the Palestinian issue. And this could be the point which will make this U.S. dream alliance improbable in the near term, although not impossible at some time in the more distant future.
How an alliance such as the “4 + 1” (4 Muslim states and Israel?) would influence the Muslim participants future support for the Palestinian struggle for justice and self-determination is the first question that needs to be considered if this kind of new alliance materializes.