Saudi Arabia and Israel appear to be ascribing to the ancient proverb that says “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The two countries have held five secret meetings since the beginning of 2014 to address their regional foe, Iran, it was revealed on Thursday at a Council of Foreign Relations event in Washington.
"Our standing today on this stage does not mean we have resolved all the differences that our countries have shared over the years," said Dore Gold, who will soon become Israel’s next foreign ministry director general, according to Bloomberg. "But our hope is we will be able to address them fully in the years ahead."
Anwar Majed Eshki, a retired Saudi general who was once the adviser to Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former Saudi ambassador to the United States, and Gold disclosed the secret diplomacy, which is aimed at discussing how to address Iran’s growing influence in the region.
Saudi Arabia refuses to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a country and Israel rejects Saudi Arabia’s offer for peace in return for a Palestinian state, which would include a part of Jerusalem. But the two countries feel immense pressure to work together as Iran’s influence grows in Iraq and Yemen.
Eshki outlined a seven-point plan for the Middle East, including support for regime change in Iran, an multinational Arab military force and the formation of an independent state for the Kurds that would be carved out of Iraq, Iran and Turkey.
Gold’s speech at Thursday’s event warned of Iran’s expansionist ambitions but stopped short of calling for the fall of the Tehran government.
The talks between Saudi Arabia and Israel come as Iran and world powers led by the U.S. are trying to come to an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. A deal is expected to be hammered out by a June 30 deadline set by an agreement earlier this year. Talks could still break down or run past the deadline because Iran isn’t ready to grant access to all uranium enrichment sites in return for a lifting of sanctions. Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeatedly expressed skepticism that the U.S. and other Western powers involved in the talks can be trusted.
Saudi Arabia and Israel would be most affected if Iran were to obtain nuclear weapons, and it’s been an open secret that Israel and Saudi Arabia share a common interest in ensuring containment of Iran’s power.
“A few years ago, it was mainly Israel that rang the alarm about Iranian expansionism in the Middle East,” writes Bloomberg’s Eli Lake, who attended the event and spoke with Eshki about the secret meetings. “It is significant that now Israel is joined in this campaign by Saudi Arabia, a country that has wished for its destruction since 1948.”
Diplomatic talks with Israel is a controversial topic in Saudi Arabia, whose population generally holds deep disdain for Israel over its policy on the West Bank's illegal settlements and the deplorable conditions Arabs live under in Gaza.