So guess who the latest strange bedfellows are in the Middle East? I’ll give you a hint: they both have reason to distrust Iran and they’re both American allies. *Cue jeopardy theme.*
Times up. Did you guess “Israel and Saudi Arabia“? No, of course you didn’t! (And even if you did, you didn’t phrase your answer in the form of a question, so no points there.) But it looks like Saudi Arabia’s given Israel the okay to, if necessary, engage in a little long-range paving of Iranian nuclear concerns using Saudi airspace to go to and fro.
Now I imagine a lot of people in the US will be surprised by this. What with the Saudi’s being a bit brissly about the whole Israel thing. To be fair, Saudi Arabia’s government rarely says anything harsher than “Israel should totally give back those lands that they got from Egypt back in ’67. (Please ignore the fact that the Arab world started that fight.)” Still, they have a trade embargo in effect with Israel, and tend to side with the Arab portions of the Middle East in taking offense whenever Israel so much as looks at them funny.
For Israel’s part, it’s hard to imagine a more obstinate, curmudgeonly force in the Middle East. They’ve almost made a cottage industry of pissing off Sunni and Shia Arabs alike, even going so far as to roll them back and take some of their land in the above-mentioned 6 Days War.
But hey, never let it be said that sectarian paranoia never brought anyone together. It looks like both the Jewish state of Israel and the Sunni state of Saudi Arabia are a bit wary of the idea of the Iranian Shi’ites getting hold of The Bomb. Personally, I can’t say I blame them. There are few pairs in the world I’d trust less with a nuke than Khameini and Ahmadinejad.
So basically, Saudi Arabia and Israel are agreeing that if Israel wants to go ahead and use some of those fancy JDAMs they got from the US a few years ago to precision pave a few nuke plants, then Saudi Arabia will turn a blind eye to Israel’s comings and goings.
Now, this agreement is interesting on a lot of levels, but I find it particularly cool for how clearly it shatters our image of a monolithic, cohesive “Middle East”. To put it simply, there is no such beast. Rather the Middle East is a diverse, unstable, multicultural region with Shi’ite, Sunni, Jewish, and Secular states all trying to secure their own interests. (One reason the “Iraq is harboring Al’Qaeda” meme from 2002/2003 was so ridiculous is because Iraq was, in governance, a mostly secular nation. Al’Qaeda are Sunni Wahhabists who hate, HATE the idea of secular states in the Arab world. As a result, Al’Qaeda fucking HATED Iraq. So did Iran. That’s why Iran and Iraq fought an epic 8-year war back in the 80s. Iran and Al’Qaeda only got involved in fighting against US troops in Iraq AFTER we’d smashed the Iraqi state.)
In a way it would be really nice if politics Middle East were as easy as “Israel vs. All Comers”, but it’s not. There are a huge number of ethnic, political and religious groups that make saying “Jew vs. Arab” as blinkered a representation of the Middle East as “North vs. South” is of Modern America. Is there an Arab/Jewish animosity to be considered? Well, yeah, of course. A rather violent one, as it turns out. But there’s so much more going on in the region that to frame the whole area’s politics in those terms is to miss the point in a rather epic fashion.