“For the first time in my lifetime, Arabs and Jews see a common danger,” said Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu Monday, May 4: There is a great challenge afoot. But that challenge also presents great opportunities.”
He was addressing the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC) annual conference in Washington by satellite, along with a star-spangled roster of speakers. Netanyahu's pious hope did not come out of the blue, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Middle East sources. It was well prepared by a series of consultations among Israeli and Arab officials.
Barring last-minute changes, the Israeli prime minister and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak have set a date at Sharm al-Sheikh for May 11 to finalize those decisions before both set out for their first talks with US president Barack Obama, whom the Israeli prime minister meets on May 18.
The key figure in those preparations was Egyptian intelligence minister Omar Suleiman, who spent April 22 and 23 in Israel, ostensibly on Palestinian affairs. In fact, his unpublished talks with the heads of Israel's government and his opposite numbers in Mossad, military intelligence and the General Security Service (Shin Bet) dealt solely with Iran, Syria, Hizballah and Hamas. They looked ahead to the foursome's next moves and evaluated their military responses to a potential Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear and strategic.
From Jerusalem, Gen. Suleiman headed for Riyadh to pull the covert planning together with the Saudis.
He was went straight into conference with King Abdullah and the Saudi chief of general intelligence, Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, after which Muqrin secretly visited Cairo last week for a long session with Mubarak attended only by the Egyptian intelligence chief.
Working together- not for the first time.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Middle East sources report that this is not the first time Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt have worked quietly together on the same side.
Before the outbreak of Israel's 2006 war with the Lebanese Hizballah, the then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and a group of intelligence chiefs met several times in the Jordanian capital of Amman with Saudi national security adviser, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, to coordinate Saudi-Egyptian-Israeli moves behind the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah front.
It is reasonable to assume that Israel leveled on a part of its military plans in that war and received feedback and suggestions from its two silent Arab partners.
When the Lebanon war ended without a Hizballah defeat, Bandar commented ruefully: “The most important military bid to halt Iran's expansion across the Middle East has flopped.”
But instead of losing heart, the three governments were spurred to continue their unacknowledged alliance in other shared fields of interest.
When Israeli launched its Gaza offensive against Hamas on Dec. 27, 2008, therefore, Jerusalem and Cairo were closely aligned on the various phases of combat. For the duration of the 22-day conflict, Israel kept Egypt abreast of the action and Cairo passed the information on to Riyadh.
This was Israel's first operation against an Arab target that gained the blessing of an Egyptian-Saudi consensus.
Washington setback spurs unwritten pact
Olmert confided in only one outsider, Binyamin Netanyahu, who was then leader of the opposition. It was therefore only natural for Netanyahu, when he took the reins of government in early April, to pick up the challenge of the three-way diplomatic and military front against the same radical bloc of Iran, Syria and Hizballah.
However, during the changeover of Israeli prime ministers, an upheaval struck Washington: Barack Obama was installed as US president and he quickly decided to dump the policies he inherited from George W. Bush, notably, his support for the Israeli-Arab understanding.
This setback served as another spur to the three silent allies. Their catalyst was the Obama administration's outreach to Tehran and rehabilitation of Damascus, along with broad hints of its willingness to engage Hizballah and Hamas.
Each of the three allies has individual motives for persisting in this strategic partnership:
Saudi Arabia: King Abdullah and the influential princes at his court are convinced that Washington's ardent courtship of Tehran entails US acquiescence to Iran's acquisition of nuclear arms and rise as Middle East superpower. The Saudis bitterly resent being ditched as kingpin of the Middle East and Gulf regions.
Unable to shrug off their dependence on Washington for the kingdom's survival, the Saudi royals realize they are helpless to act on their own. They are therefore seeking to revert to the mechanism that worked in the Lebanon and Gaza conflicts which placed Israel's military power out front, with quiet Arab backing from behind.
Mubarak fears for Middle East stability
Egypt: President Mubarak is the only Arab ruler who has dared to stick his neck out to confront Iran and its Middle East partners and stooges out in the open.
Washington and Cairo have issues on Mubarak's style of government and human rights behavior, but most of all Cairo suspects that the nascent US-European Union dialogue with the Hizballah and Hamas terrorist groups will spill over into recognition of Egypt's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and US pressure to embrace the radical organization as a legitimate political party.
Mubarak moreover regards as inimical to regional stability the Obama administration's approval of Syria's Bashar Assad, including his machinations against Lebanese sovereignty, and the high esteem conferred on Turkey's Recip Tayyep Erdogan. For the Egyptian ruler, the spectacle of Iran and Turkey lording it over the two halves of the Middle East is an apocalyptic nightmare which must be stopped before a rude awakening.
Mubarak has a hard reckoning with President Obama for failing to utter a single word of support last month when Egypt's security services caught an Iranian-Hizballah spy-cum-terror ring red-handed plotting subversion in Cairo and the Suez Canal cities.
Israel: Notwithstanding Washington's faithful lip service to the US commitment to Israel's security and Israeli leaders' affirmation that the US is Israel's closest ally, the two governments are clearly heading for a collision.
(See HOT POINTS below: Netanyahu Heads for Collision with Obama).
Their widening gulf on Iran and the Palestinians is at the heart of the row.
The US president is fixated on attaining a Palestinian state by the end of his first term in 2012, a feat which defeated all his predecessors in the Oval Office and which no responsible Israeli politician, including opposition leader Tzipi Livni, believes is feasible. Now, more than ever, the Palestinians are mired in hopeless feuds and lack a single ruling institution capable of governing any of the territories on which a putative state would be founded.
Without going into arguments about historical justice and legitimacy, the Obama administration would by forcing the issue of Palestinian statehood end up achieving nothing positive and only open the door for the rejectionist Hamas to wrest control of the West Bank from the Palestinian Authority by violence as it did the Gaza Strip.
Iran would thus tighten the noose encircling Israel's borders.
Obama's tit for tat – unworkable
As for Iran, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Jerusalem sources confirm that here too all responsible Israeli leaders (again, including Livni) reject what they regard as the “cynical formula” laid out this week before the AIPAC conference by White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. It amounted to predicating US willingness to grapple with the Iranian nuclear issue on Israel's concessions to the Palestinians.
Jerusalem rejects this proposition. On and off the record, official sources warn that the Obama administration is going the right away to justify apprehensions in Jerusalem as well as Riyadh, Cairo and the Gulf emirates that the US has chosen to succumb to a nuclear Iran.
Anyway, Israeli officials ask rhetorically: What guarantee of real action to terminate Iran's nuclear aspirations is on offer, even if Israel did go along with every concession demanded by Obama and his team for the Palestinians
This complex battery of interests, motives and arguments provides the cement for the tripartite understanding evolving between Riyadh, Cairo and Jerusalem on how to deal with Iran's ambitions and the Obama administration's handling thereof.
None of the threesome honestly believes Washington's tactic of dialogue will work for weaning Tehran from its nuclear drive. Just the reverse: After more than 100 days in office, the US president has done nothing to impede or even slow down Iran's progress towards its goals although, according to intelligence data, US-Iranian talks are well advanced.
By letting Iran's nuclear weapons issue be shunted to the bottom of their diplomatic agenda, the United States will allow Tehran to attain a nuclear bomb capability while they are still talking. This outcome King Abdullah, President Mubarak and prime minister Netanyahu agree is unthinkable and must be forestalled.
So, without fanfare or formal accords, the three rulers are huddling together on a military option to be spearheaded by Israel's Defense Forces (more about which in a separate article in this issue) for thwarting Tehran's plans.