Diplomacy

Israeli, Saudi Officials Meet Publicly for First Time To Address Iranian Threat

Representatives of the Israeli government and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia met publicly in Washington D.C. to discuss their governments’ shared concern about the threat posed by Iran, The New York Times reported Thursday.

A new merging of strategic interests between Saudi Arabia and Israel was on display on Thursday as two former officials from those countries appeared on the same stage to discuss their concerns about Iran’s actions across the Middle East.

In an appearance at the Washington office of the Council on Foreign Relations, a retired major general in the Saudi armed forces, Anwar Eshki, and a former Israeli ambassador close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Dore Gold, described their common interests in opposing Iran. It was the culmination of five meetings between the two men, who both run think tanks, though Mr. Gold will become the director general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday.

“We’re both allies of the United States,” Mr. Gold said after the presentation. “I hope this is the beginning of more discussion about our common strategic problems.”

Eli Lake of Bloomberg View explained that after five secret meetings, the Israelis and Saudis “came out of the closet” regarding their ongoing diplomacy.

While these men represent countries that have been historic enemies, their message was identical: Iran is trying to take over the Middle East and it must be stopped. …

It’s no coincidence that the meetings between Gold, Eshki and a few other former officials from both sides took place in the shadow of the nuclear talks among Iran, the US and other major powers. Saudi Arabia and Israel are arguably the two countries most threatened by Iran’s nuclear program, but neither has a seat at the negotiations scheduled to wrap up at the end of the month.

The five bilateral meetings over the last 17 months occurred India, Italy and the Czech Republic. One participant, Shimon Shapira, a retired Israeli general and an expert on the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, told me: “We discovered we have the same problems and same challenges and some of the same answers.” Shapira described the problem as Iran’s activities in the region, and said both sides had discussed political and economic ways to blunt them, but wouldn’t get into any further specifics.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that a survey of the Saudi population, taken by an Israeli university, shows that Saudis believe Iran to be their greatest enemy.

The survey conducted by the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya provides Israelis with a rare glimpse inside Saudi Arabia and may change Israeli perceptions about the desert kingdom. The two countries are longtime foes with no diplomatic relations.

The poll found that 53 percent of Saudis named Iran as their main adversary, while 22 percent said it is the Islamic State group and only 18 percent said Israel. The poll, conducted in conjunction with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, surveyed 506 Saudis over the phone and had a margin of error of 5 percentage points. It was carried out over the past two weeks, starting in late May.

The poll also showed that a majority of Saudis think their country should seek nuclear weapons if Iran acquires an atomic bomb. A whopping 85 percent also support the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative, which calls for peace with Israel in return for a full Israeli withdrawal to its pre-1967 borders.

Last year, retired head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Turki bin Faisal, met with Israel’s former chief of military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.