The Saudi air corridor offered Israel for an attack on Iran reported in the London Times of Saturday, June 12, was an old story rehashed by Riyadh in the hope of egging the US and Israel on to break free of their self-imposed restraints and halt Iran's drive for a nuclear bomb before it is too late.
debkafile's Middle East sources report the explosive developments of the last two weeks, primarily the meteoric rise of a thrusting partnership between the two non-Arab powers, Turkey and Iran, have badly rattled Arab capitals, especially when they see the Obama administration and Netanyahu government immersed in tying themselves and each other in knots over the format of an inquiry into Turkish flotilla incident.
The London Times reported that Saudi Arabia had conducted tests to stand down its air defenses to enable Israeli jets to make a bombing raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Riyadh was said to have agreed to allow Israel to use a narrow corridor of its airspace in the north of the country to shorten the distance for a bombing run on Iran. To ensure the Israeli bombers pass unmolested, Riyadh has carried out tests to make certain its own jets are not scrambled and missile defense systems not activated.
“The Saudis have given their permission for the Israelis to pass over and they will look the other way,” said a US defense source in the area. Sources in Saudi Arabia say, "It is common knowledge within defense circles in the kingdom that an arrangement is in place if Israel decides to launch the raid. Despite the tension between the two governments, they share a mutual loathing of the regime in Tehran and a common fear of Iran’s nuclear ambitions."
debkafile adds: Appearing in the week UN sanctions were approved against Iran, this report amounted to a Saudi no-confidence vote in its value.
Low expectations of the sanctions are no secret in Washington either. According to the New York Times, the Obama administration has prepared Plans A, B, C. and D, if sanctions fail to stop Iran's push for a nuke. No details were published, but the NYT quoted Barak Obama as noting in April: "…once Iran passes a certain point, it may be impossible to know when it has taken the last steps to manufacture a (nuclear) weapon."
This did not stop defense secretary Robert Gates speaking after a NATO meeting in Brussels on June 11, from whipping out the rusty device beloved of the Bush administration: "I think everyone agrees we have some more time, including the Israelis. …I would say the intelligence estimates range from one to three years."
In the Middle East meanwhile, events are rushing forward with explosive haste, impelled in the last ten days by the Turkish-led flotilla for breaking the Gaza blockade and the Israeli commando raid to intercept it.
The rise of the Turkish-Iranian alliance has not only thrust America and Israel to the wings the Middle East stage, but is deeply alarming Cairo, Riyadh, the Gulf emirate and even Syria. They suddenly see Prime minister Recep Erdogan and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dictating the region's agenda with no one there to stop them.
Within days, the balance of power in the region has been reshuffled to extend way beyond Tehran's hand on Hizballah's levers in Beirut and the Palestinian Hamas in Gaza. Iran has acquired an important member of NATO as a proactive ally.
Gates' only comment on this development was: "I was disappointed by the Turkey vote on the Iranian sanctions. That said, Turkey is a decades-long ally of the US and a member of NATO. Turkey continues to play a critical part in the alliance."
Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and defense minster Ehud Barak are just as laggard in addressing the formidable new axis looming over the region and the Jewish state, in particular. They are too busy quibbling with Washington over the shape of the impartial commission the UN has demanded for probing Israel's actions against the Turkish-led flotilla of May 31 – though certainly not, perish the thought, Turkey's role or the Erdogan government's close ties with the IHH terrorists aboard the Turkish ship.
What Netanyahu and Barak have not told the public is that the dickering with the Obama administration has dragged out for five days because the US wants the impartial commission empowered to question the Israeli officers and soldiers who raided the Mavi Marmara in a clash which left 9 Turks dead, and several wounded including six Israel commandos.
If Obama has his way, Israeli soldiers will for the first time face questioning by American and European investigators. Israeli leaders understand that compliance would add fuel to the international campaign for de-legitimizing the Jewish state as a sovereign state and respectable member of the world community of nations. The Israelli Defense Forces would be further immobilized under a sustained international campaign to discredit them on the lines of the Goldstone report on the Gaza war – only this time Washington is taking the lead in the de-legitimacy campaign.
With no one apparently available for keeping Iran out of the nuclear club, Riyadh did what it could. Using the London Times platform, Saudi Arabia's princely rulers opened the door to positive action in order to lift morale in the oil kingdom and its army and remind Washington, Jerusalem and the other Middle East players that soft sanctions need not be the last word; they are offering Israeli bombers a corridor for striking Iran's nuclear facilities and chance to reshape the region's declining reality.
debkafile adds: The air corridor is now clearly open but still unused. There appears to be no one in Washington or Jerusalem willing or able to order the bombers to take off.