Not so long ago, a UN speech by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal lambasting the US president’s Middle East policy on Syria and Iran would have grabbed US media headlines.
But the prince’s address Tuesday, Oct. 2, rated passing mention in America and was only played up by the Saudi and Persian Gulf press.
The usual procedure in the past was for the Saudi UN delegation to hand out advance copies of the foreign minister’s speech. Not this year. Prince Saud did not even write a speech because he was not sure he would deliver one.
Abdullah Bin Yahya Al Mouallami, the Saudi permanent ambassador to the UN, explained Wednesday to the Al Riyadh daily that a speech by member states to the General Assembly was an option, not an obligation.
Hanging above the incident is profound Saudi dissatisfaction over last week’s UN Security Council resolution on Syria and, according to a statement issued in Riyadh, with a “significant turning point” in relations between Tehran and the international community, which was “sealed by an historic phone conversation between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his US counterpart Barack Obama.”
Saudis, Europeans urge Israel to hang tough on Obama’s outreach to Iran
Riyadh did not content itself with angry words. DEBKA Weekly’s sources report that Saudi diplomats got in touch discreetly with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s party in New York, before his meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House on Sept. 30, and ahead of his address the following day to the UN assembly. They particularly asked him to take a tough position on the Obama administration’s outreach to Tehran and expose the danger of concessions.
The Saudis weren’t alone. In the name of a concerned Europe, German and French diplomats asked the Israeli prime minister to talk tough on the Iranian peril and stand firm against the US president’s policy of bending backward to accommodate Iran in the controversy over its nuclear misdeeds and aspirations.
Neither Chancellor Angela Merkel nor French President Francois Hollande is willing to let Obama and Putin run the Iranian show on their own.
(See a separate article in this issue: Who is running US Iranian policy?)
They also resented being bumped out of the nuclear dialogue with Iran in favor of Moscow, after being used by Washington to keep the P5+1 (five Security Council permanent members plus Germany) negotiations with Iran afloat year after year.
Israel’s three choices – none good
These developments leave Netanyahu with three choices – none of them good:
He can go along with Obama – and powerful Israeli voices are urging him to do this; or he can go for expanding the base of Israeli-Saudi intelligence-sharing, without entertaining illusions that it will be more than a limited give-and-take, or that either the Saudis or Gulf emirates will support an Israel military strike against Iran’s nuclear program – either openly or even covertly..
But just this week, the Israeli prime minister was a sought-after figure.
Instead of being isolated, Israel’s secret services and their Saudi and Gulf colleagues were of one mind on the need to counter Obama’s rapprochement with Iran. They agreed for the first time ever to synchronize their lobbying efforts to persuade the US Congress to defeat the president’s initiative.
Israel’s third option is the most extreme: To exercise Israel’s military option against Iran after five years of hesitancy and delays.
Without question, Netanyahu is being called to account for his strategic mistake of holding back from a pre-emptive attack on the Iranian nuclear program when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was president. The military option will be much harder to exercise during the presidency of the genial Hassan Rouhani.
Saudis may race Obama for deals with Tehran
The Saudis and Gulf Arab states have more leeway than Israel. DEBKA Weekly discerns at least four or five interesting choices:
1. Riyadh has formally invited President Rouhani to Mecca for the annual pilgrimage, the Hajj, which falls on October 13-18. The Saudi princes are now agonizing over whether he should be received by King Abdullah or a lower-ranking figure. (See Weekly 604 of Sept. 27: A Saudi Quartet Pursues Pro-active Policy against Obama).
A public handshake between the monarch and the president would ring even more bells than a shot of President Obama in the Oval Office on the telephone to the Iranian president.
It would be a Saudi gesture towards Tehran in the race to beat Obama at the conciliation game.
2. Indeed, according to DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources in the Gulf, Riyadh has hired the same go-between as the White House. The Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said is now running a direct line of communication between Riyadh and Tehran in addition to his Washington-Tehran route.
Riyadh is looking at bilateral accords on Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain
3. The Saudis are contemplating taking advantage of Rouhani’s visit to Mecca to bilaterally settle some key outstanding issues between their governments, without US or Russian intercession.
They are Iran’s nuclear program, the Syrian crisis, Hizballah’s dominance in Lebanon and unrest in Bahrain.
Direct Saudi-Iranian accords on Syria, Lebanon and Hizballah, if they were achieved, might well outstrip and overlay the US-Russian deal on Syria.
4. On the nuclear issue, the Saudis don’t believe it is possible to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. And so they have set in motion arrangements to acquire their own nuclear option with the help of China and Pakistan.
Those same DEBKA Weekly sources disclose that the Saudis have already moved ahead of the prospective nuclear standoff between the two powers and will seek understandings or agreements with Tehran guaranteeing reciprocal immunity from nuclear aggression and a cap on the number of ballistic missiles the two countries may post against each other.
5. Riyadh finds encouragement for embarking on direct negotiations with Tehran in the appointment of Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani as Iran’s new National Security Adviser. King Abdullah is well acquainted with the admiral from a former mediation session between the two Persian Gulf capitals.