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In one of the region’s oddest pairings, Israel and the Gulf Arab states led by Saudi Arabia increasingly are finding common ground — and a common political language — on their mutual dismay over Iran’s history-making overtures to Washington and the prospect of a nuclear deal in Geneva that could curb Tehran’s atomic program but leave the main elements intact, such as uranium enrichment.
“The adage about ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ is playing out over Iran,” said Theodore Karasik, a security and political affairs analyst at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. “This situation opens up some interesting possibilities as it all shakes out.”
There seems little chance of major diplomatic breakthroughs between Israel and the Gulf’s array of ruling monarchs and sheiks. But their shared worries over Iran’s influence and ambitions already has brought back-channel contacts and “intimate relationships” on defense and other strategic interests through forums such as the U.N., said Dan Gillerman, a former Israeli ambassador to the world body.
The stepped-up anxieties on Iran could bring new space for the Gulf-Israel overlap.
Egypt’s military-backed government, which ousted the Iran-friendly Muslim Brotherhood, could be an easy fit into a regional bloc standing against Iran and demanding tougher lines from Washington, which has been roundly criticized by some for abandoning its longstanding allies in favor of trying to settle the nuclear standoff with Iran.
Egypt’s leadership depends on Gulf money as a lifeline and seeks to rebuild its ties with Israel, whose peace treaty with Cairo was considered a historical annoyance by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Saudi and other Gulf states are critical money-and-weapons pipelines to Syrian rebels in a proxy war with Iran, the main Middle East backers of Bashar Assad’s government. Iran’s other loyal force, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, is also in the mix in Syria. On Tuesday, an al-Qaida-linked group claimed it carried out a pair of suicide bombings at the Iranian Embassy in Beirut that killed 23 people, including an Iranian diplomat, in an attack that was widely seen as retaliation against Hezbollah and Lebanon’s role in Syria.
Israel may now be able to look more to Saudi assistance and intelligence in efforts to undercut Hezbollah, which has fired rockets into Israel and waged a 2006 war. Saudi Arabia also gave important backing the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 with Israel and could assume an even greater role in future Israel-Palestinian talks.
“A nuclear deal ... is likely to intensify behind-the-scene political cooperation between the Persian Gulf states and Israel, especially when it comes to lobbying in Washington and in Brussels,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born political analyst based in Israel.