A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, November 18, 2013

The "Saudi-Israeli Alliance" Story is Hardly New and Dubiously Sourced

You may have heard of the UK Sunday Times' story about an alleged Saudi-Israeli alliance to strike Iran. The whole article is behind a paywall, but based on the part showing, the real take-away may be the line "Riyadh is understood already to have given the go-ahead for Israeli planes to use its airspace in the event of an attack on Iran." That isn't quite an "alliance," but of course there's no denying that the Saudis and the Israelis share a fear of Iran's nuclear program and worry about the upshot of a Geneva deal. The Saudis have, of course, vehemently denied the story, saying it "has no relations or contacts with Israel of any kind or at any level." While that may ignore unofficial back channels that most of us know have been used in the past, any official cooperation is highly unlikely. (I'll leave out the question of of the route Israel took on the 1981 Osirak raid and certain undisclosed US operations during the 2003 Iraq War: there is some reason to believe that Saudi Air Defenses can be, well, inattentive when they choose to be.)

Mahnaimi’s [the source of the story] corpus of “scoops” for the Sunday Times over the past decade include well over a dozen reports that an Israeli military strike on Iran is imminent. Mahnaimi has also provided fanciful depictions of secret high-tech weaponry Israel might deploy in an attack like “the gamma pulse that could send Iran back to the stone age” and a bacteriological ethnic bomb Israel had developed that would only harm Arabs.
Two previous Sunday Times reports have alleged that the Saudis were comfortable and cooperative with the prospect of an attack on Iran through their air space.
On July 5, 2009, in an article titled, “Saudis Give Nod to Israeli Raid on Iran,” Mahnaimi quoted a diplomatic source who claimed that “The Saudis have tacitly agreed to the Israel air force flying through their airspace on a mission which is supposed to be in the common interests of both Israel and Saudi Arabia.” According to Mahnaimi, then Mossad chief Meir Dagan had held secret talks earlier that year and had assured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that “Saudi Arabia would turn a blind eye to Israeli jets flying over the kingdom during any future raid on Iran’s nuclear sites.”
On Jun. 12, 2010, a very similar report by the Sunday Times‘ Hugh Tomlinson alleged — citing an unidentified US “defense official — that Saudi Arabia had practiced standing down its anti-aircraft systems in order to allow Israeli warplanes passage on their way to attack Iran’s nuclear installations. He added that the Saudis have allocated a narrow corridor of airspace in the north of the country. Saudi sources denied the report. Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, the Saudi envoy to the UK, declared that any such move “would be against the policy adopted and followed by the Kingdom,” and that Saudi Arabia would not allow any violation of its territories or airspace.
Mahnaimi reported on May 13 of this year that Israel was preparing to join Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey in establishing “an early warning system to detect Iranian ballistic missiles.” The American-brokered proposal, Mahnaimi wrote, “may eventually lead to technicians from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan working alongside Israelis in joint command-and-control centres.”
Israeli news sources, including Haaretz, the Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post, Israel Today and Y-Net are today uncritically reporting the Sunday Times‘ claim that an Israeli-Saudi attack is in the works, without mentioning the almost identical stories of 2009 and 2010, or the plethora of predictions of an Israeli attack on Iran during the course of the past decade that never happened.
Among Mahnaimi's other headline-makers was a 2010 report, also in the Sunday Times, that all three Israeli Dolphin-class subs were armed with nuclear missiles and all sitting off the Iranian coast. You remember the nuclear holocaust of 2010, don't you? (For the record, the Dolphins do carry ship-to-shore cruise missiles that could carry nuclear warheads, but they don't have the range of SLBMs. Also, all submarines, even Egypt's and ours, must pass the Suez Canal on the surface as it's too shallow to submerge. As far as I am aware, that only happened once, in 2009, with one sub, and it later returned. The subs could go around Africa, though they would need a submarine tender on the surface, and likely a friendly fueling base since they are diesel, not nuclear-powered, though they may have such facilities available in Eritrea or Djibouti. But they sure haven't all three been sitting off Iran with their nukes locked and loaded since 2010, that's for sure.)

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