March 21, 2023

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The Saudi-Iranian Detente: A Setback for Israel and a Wake-up Call for US Relations

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Saudi-Iranian détente has set back Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to isolate Tehran, but time will tell if it also hinders his outreach to Riyadh or planning for any possible military strike against Iranian nuclear sites.

Some experts argue that the most immediate concern for Israel is that the Chinese-brokered agreement reached on Friday between the major Sunni and Shiite powers signals that the United States is giving way in the region when the Netanyahu government needs it most.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the détente as an unsurprising preliminary process that should not hinder any parallel progress toward normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia. After all, Israel has drawn closer to the UAE despite also engaging Abu Dhabi with Tehran.

Meanwhile, Israel continues its campaign of veiled threats to attack Iran alone if it deems nuclear diplomacy a dead end.

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But all scenarios still depend on Washington – the sponsor and sweetener of the Arab-Israeli peace agreements and the guardian ally who, if he gives a red light to military action, Israel will be loath to cross.

“This is a brilliant blow from China and Iran to undermine Saudi-American and Saudi-Israeli normalization. It helps bring Tehran out of the cold and undermines American and Israeli efforts to build a regional alliance to confront Iran as it is on the cusp.” Developing nuclear weapons, said Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington.

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However, there are tensions unrelated to the Israeli-American alliance. The Democratic administration of President Joe Biden, which has not yet invited Netanyahu to the White House, has expressed unusually strong concern about his national religious coalition.

Netanyahu is also suffering from unprecedented mass demonstrations in Israel against his efforts to reform the judiciary. The protests included pledges by some Air Force reservists not to come for training, in reference to shaky combat readiness and morale.

wake-up call

Amos Yadlin, the former head of military intelligence under Netanyahu, said the Saudi-Iranian detente should be a wake-up call.

“The government’s focus on judicial reform, which is tearing the nation apart and weakening Israel in all dimensions, reflects a deep disconnect between Netanyahu and international geopolitical trends,” Yadlin said on Twitter.

Accusing Netanyahu of “causing extraordinary harm to our national security,” Yadlin said he should reverse the reforms – which critics describe as an attempt to subordinate the courts to government – and close ranks with Biden on how to forge Israeli-Saudi relations and jointly address Iran’s nuclear program.

That suggests that Yadlin — who was among the pilots who bombed an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 and served as a top general during Israel’s 2007 attack on a suspected reactor in Syria — may not put much of Israel’s ability to stand up to Iran on its own, which owns its own positions. nuclear. Distant, scattered and sheltered.

Similarly, Ehud Barak, Netanyahu’s former defense minister turned political critic, described Iran as “confidently marching toward becoming a de facto nuclear threshold state.”

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“It seems that the coordination between the United States and Israel is strong in the field of defense, but it is weak and needs change in the field of offense,” he wrote in the best-selling daily Yedioth Ahronoth.

Iran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons.

Eitan Ben-David, a former deputy national security adviser to Netanyahu, said Israel was working to build the capacity to take necessary unilateral military action, with the US partnership and potential Gulf Arab alliances a secondary priority.

He said that Saudi Arabia remains aware of the major role of the United States in the region and the value of bilateral relations with Israel.

“Today, too, there is a strong effort to deepen, renew and advance these relations – with the participation of the United States, of course, but also directly,” Ben-David told the Kan public broadcaster.

The New York Times reported over the weekend that in return for normalizing relations with Israel, Riyadh wanted help developing a civilian nuclear program and fewer restrictions on US arms purchases.

Yadlin warned that Netanyahu, who is politically trapped at home and at odds with the White House, accommodates such demands “in his desire to regard the Saudi peace plan as an achievement.”

The Saudi government media office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the New York Times report. Saudi Arabia linked any move by the kingdom to normalize relations with Israel to resolving the goals of establishing a Palestinian state.

For its part, the White House appeared to downplay China’s involvement in development on Friday. US national security spokesman John Kirby said the White House believes that internal and external pressure, including effective Saudi deterrence against attacks from Iran or its proxies, has finally brought Tehran to the negotiating table.

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Written by Dan Williams, Editing by William McClain

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