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From Normalization to a Defense Pact: Israel in Talks with Three Neighbors

As one more sign of how far the Arabs have come in forging closer ties with Israel and leaving the Palestinians to fend for themselves, talks are now underway between the Jewish state and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia about a possible defense pact. A report on this remarkable development is here.

For years the Saudis and Israelis have shared intelligence about their common enemy, Iran. It is well known that the Saudi Crown Prince has met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and that he favors more open and closer ties with Israel; some reports suggest he would like his country to follow the UAE and Bahrain in normalizing ties with the Jewish state. But he has to be careful; his father King Salman recently refused to consider recognizing Israel until there is an independent Palestinian state. But if the Saudis are now discussing a military alliance with Israel, mustn’t that signify a change of heart on the King’s part?

Were such an alliance to be forged, since the Saudi people — unlike those in the UAE and Bahrain — are still largely hostile to Israel, there would have to be an effort by Riyadh to decrease that hostility. Before it can recognize Israel, Riyadh would have to make an effort to soften that anti-Israel animus. It’s a tall order. It requires, in the first place, a government campaign stressing Israel’s remarkable role in delaying Iran’s nuclear plans. Israel’s acts of derring-do – and how they have helped Saudi Arabia by hindering Iran’s nuclear program – can be continuously presented to the public, as a series of whodunits on Saudi television. These would include the Stuxnet computer worm that Israeli hackers introduced in 2015 into Iranian computers; the result was that about 1,000 Iranian centrifuges used to enrich uranium sped up so fast that they destroyed themselves. It would also include the assassination by Mossad of four of Iran’s most important nuclear scientists, one by one, between 2010 and 2012; the locating and bringing back to Israel for study Iran’s entire nuclear archive; the sabotage by Mossad agents of an advanced centrifuge plant at Natanz, and the assassination by Mossad of the mastermind of Iran’s nuclear project, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, just this past November. These Hollywoodesque exploits all happen to be true, and can show a suddenly sympathetic Israel to the Saudi public as repeatedly thwarting the black-hatted villains of Tehran.

Iran has been publicly announcing that it will openly violate the terms of the JCPOA, threatening to enrich uranium to a level of 60%. It has also been producing uranium metal, which has little civilian use (unlike enriched uranium, which can be used for nuclear energy); uranium metal can be used in the core of a nuclear bomb. Iran has also announced it will be limiting access to its nuclear facilities by IAEA inspectors, including ending “snap” inspections by the IAEA that take place with little advance notice. All of this makes the Saudis more nervous and, consequently, more desirous of closer defense ties with Israel, which has done more than any other country, including the U.S., to slow Iran’s nuclear program.

The reason for these talks among Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain is not just their growing worry over Iran’s onward march to possessing nuclear weapons, but reflects a shared alarm over the Biden Administration’s insensate desire to return to the JCPOA and to lift the crippling sanctions imposed on Iran by the Trump administration. The Biden administration has given off mixed signals, sometimes insisting that there will be no lifting of sanctions until after Iran returns to the JCPOA, and at other times suggesting that Iran and the U.S. could act simultaneously, with the U.S. lifting some sanctions at the same time that Iran returns to fulfilling some of its commitments under the JCPOA, with a continuing tit-for-tat until all sanctions would be lifted and Iran would have fully returned to the JCPOA. But in all these scenarios, the end result – a return by both the U.S. and Iran to the JCPOA — is rejected both by Israel and its three Sunni Arab allies in the Gulf, who unanimously agree that the 2015 nuclear deal was very bad, not least because of the sunset clauses – ten years after 2015, all centrifuge restrictions will be lifted, and after fifteen years, so too will limits on the amount of low-enriched uranium Iran can possess. Iran’s ability to build a bomb would be delayed only until 2030. For Israel and its Arab allies, that’s unacceptable.

The Arab states also recognize that the Biden administration is determined to pivot way from the Middle East, with its quagmires and “forever wars,” and devote more of its attention to what it sees as the need to re-engage with the Europeans who, according to reports, Biden officials believe had been neglected by the U.S. under Trump. And even more important than Europe is the need to deal with the major threats that Russia and China now pose to the United States and the rest of the Western alliance.

These four countries- know that they can no longer count on America, but only on themselves, to deal with the Iranian threat. It is both Tehran’s threats and Washington’s fecklessness that have brought them together.

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