Menagerie a trois.

Many Saudis blame Iran for fomenting the fighting in both Syria and Iraq, fighting in which Sunnis have been the biggest losers.[1] Government spokesmen equate the Houthis in Yemen with Hezbollah in Lebanon. A spokesman for the Saudi military stated Saudi Arabia’s view of Iranian strategy: “Wherever the Iranians are present, they create militias against these countries. In Lebanon, they have created Hezbollah, which is blocking the political process and has conducted wars against Israelis, destroying Lebanon as a result. And in Yemen, they have created the Houthis.” (Obviously, this is a simplistic analysis that ignores many other factors. However, not many people doing applied politics have the spare time to read the American Political Science Review.) Facilitating this equivalence is the Houthis’ firing of rockets into Saudi Arabia, which Saudi officials compare to Hezbollah’s firing of rockets into Israel. That is, the Saudis see the rocket as the Iranian weapon-of-choice. Since Iran is in hot pursuit of nuclear weapons, it is easy to see why this alarms the Saudis.

Alarmed over the looming escape from sanctions by the Iranians, the Saudis are beginning to draw distinctions. “Israel is an enemy because of its origin, but it isn’t an enemy because of its actions—while Iran is an enemy because of its actions, not because of its origin,” said a former Saudi diplomat. In theory, the Palestinian issue still obstructs Saudi-Israeli co-operation. In practice, anything that appears to be an existential threat to both countries will lead to lesser issues being swiftly resolved or adjourned.[2]

There are hints of other ramifications as well. Saudi Major General Anwar Eshqi (retired), now the director of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies, told the WSJ that Saudi Arabia wants Israel to be integrated into the Middle East. “[W]e can use their technology while they can use our money.” When the United States cut off aid to Egypt after the coup against Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government, Saudi Arabia immediately stepped in to more than make up for the lost aid. Since then, Egypt has gone ahead pretty much as it prefers without paying much attention to Washington. What if the same thing happens with Israel? Well, the Israelis are not likely to make an open break with the United States because it is the chief source of advanced arms and cover in the UN’s Security Council. Still, the Bush Administration’s attack on Iraq and the Obama Administration’s embrace of the “Arab Spring” have had long-term consequences that undermine American influence in the Middle East.

[1] Yaroslav Trofimov, “Saudi Arabia and Israel Find Common Ground on Iran,” WSJ, 19 June 2015.

[2] See: What would Bismarck drive? 3,” May 2015.

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