Scholar As’ad AbuKhalil says Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner of the U.S. and Israel, promoting Zionism though its powerful media while increasing its hostility to Iran
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. The growing alliance between Gulf monarchies and Israel is one of Middle East’s most notorious open secrets. Monarchies in the Persian Gulf have long claimed to support the Palestinian struggle while secretly working with US and Israel behind the scenes. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar have at various times tried to exploit the Palestinian struggle for their own political interests, but in recent years their collaboration with Israel has become more prominent and overt.
The war in Syria has brought Gulf regimes and Israel even closer together with both sides supporting anti-government anti-Iran rebels including Syria’s Al-Qaeda affiliate, Al-Nusra Front. In 2017, an Israeli cabinet member admitted that Israeli government collaborates with Saudi Arabia in order to counter the growing influence of Iran. The Israeli’s Intelligence Affairs Minister even invited Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to visit Israel.
These Gulf regimes like Israel are key allies and proxies of the United States in the region. They have been for a long time. The Bush era compounded the alliances and the election of President Donald Trump has only accelerated these growing relations. There were even reports that Saudi Arabia and Egypt gave Trump the green light to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and Bahrain likewise normalized Trump’s move by promptly sending a delegation to Jerusalem.
To discuss what lies beneath these alliances and warming up relations, I’m joined by As’ad Abukhalil. He is a leading expert on Middle East politics and a professor of political science at California State University in Stanislaus. He regularly writes at his website, The Angry Arab News Service. I thank you so much for joining us today, As’ad.
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: As’ad, what official relations exist between the Gulf monarchs and Israel?
AS’AD ABUKHALIL; It is fair to say that there is a strong alliance, political military intelligence alliance between Saudi Arabia, Israel, and we can include UAE because UAE has been at the forefront of a covert strong military intelligence alliance with Israel since after September 11th. Saudi Arabia has expedited the race, the closer relationship with Israel since the rise of the current… but it began long before 2015 when a new king was inaugurated.
And it started after September 11th when Saudi Arabia felt that the best way to achieve forgiveness from the public of the United States and from Congress for the involvement of Saudi citizens in September 11th was to get in close relations with Israelis and the Israeli lobby. This has been the recipe of all Arab government, Qatar included. Whenever they want to ingratiate themselves with the US administration, any US administration, they basically get closer to the state of Israel.
However, there is a much longer history of secret covert ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia that we can speak of. It has been different phases of Saudi-Israeli alliances. Back in the first Yemen war of the 1960s, we have seen and there is now evidence, I have written about that in Arabic. There is evidence now published about covert relations between the Saudis and the Israelis. The Saudis approached the Israelis in India, in Bombay at the time, and that began a direct military Israeli and intelligence intervention in the Yemeni War, of course, on the side of the right wing reactionist side in that war.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now As’ad, it is commonly believed that in the ’60s and ’70s leftists Palestinian resistance leaders stressed that their enemy was not just Israel but also what they call reactionary Arab regimes. Has this situation changed? Is those assumptions correct?
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Unfortunately, it wasn’t even that at that time. This is one of the arguments I used to have as a youngster with many of these leading figures of the Palestinian left wing movements. First of all, mainstream PLO organization, the organization of Yasser Arafat never argued that line at all. If anything, the bulk of the PLO was on the payroll of the Saudis and the government. In return, they basically went along the line of giving…Israel and adopting the two-state solution officially in 1974.
So, we’re talking about the left wing organization. The left wing organization were not in agreement on that subject. It is true the PFLP, the main left wing organization which was founded in 1967, began as an organization that split Arab regimes into different camps and targeted Saudi Arabia as the reactionary regime. But over the years, they slackened in that rhetoric. Some left wing organization even established covert secret financial relations with the Gulf government. Some of them, some of the Gulf government paid protection money to some, certainly they did that with certain organization, but they also paid it to smaller groups.
As a result of that, the Palestinian movement really did not continue what it started preaching in terms of hostility to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf regime. And they pretty much left them alone. There was no attempt to direct any of the military attacks at the time against Gulf targets. In the case of Saudi Arabia, the PFLP, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, they continued to refer to Saudi Arabia as a reactionary regime and so on, but there was nothing done about that.
In fact, it went even farther. While the PFLP had ties with opposition groups in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, Fatah was even rendering service against dissidents of the Gulf. We remember in the late 1970s an arm of the Fatah organization loyal to Yasser Arafat kidnapped the most famous Saudi dissident…from Beirut when he was on his way for an appointment. They put him in the trunk of a car, they surrendered him to the Saudi embassy in Beirut from which he was taken and presumably tortured and killed.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now As’ad, I know that the conflicts and contradictions inside the GCC has been there for a long time. It’s historic, but they’ve come to light over Qatar recently exposing that they’re not this collaborative cohesive body that comes together around oil. Saudi Arabia and the UAE impose a blockade on Qatar and broke off their political relations with diplomatic ties. This rift in the GCC has created an interesting divide between Israel’s supporters of the Gulf states where you have had figures such as Rabbi Shmuley who has attacked Alan Dershowitz and accused him of being soft on Qatar. What does this kind of dynamic reflect?
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Well, first of all, we need to remember this. There has never been unity among these Gulf governments, never. I mean, the idea of establishing the GCC after the Iran revolution was not even an indigenous idea. This was an order from the United States in order to facilitate its military and intelligence intervention in the region and to establish a solid block against Iran and its influence in the region.
Between all these governments, there has been historic conflict…and otherwise between Saudi Arabia and UAE, between Saudi Arabia and Oman, between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. All of these governments have conflict amongst each other. The unity, as far as it was advertised, has always been fake and has always been a command by the United States which sponsors all these regimes after the collapse of the British empire.
As far as the recent conflicts, certainly there has been an unprecedented open conflict between Qatar on the one hand and Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain on the other hand. And Oman stayed at the neutral place and largely unsympathetic to Saudi Arabia for many reasons. Why Kuwait has also remained neutral in a way that upset the Saudis and the Saudi media have been filled with scorn against the Kuwaiti government reminding them that the Saudi government was the one that rescued the Kuwaiti throne after the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam in 1990.
What is happening now between Qatar on the one hand and its rivals on the other hand is a race to the heart of the Israeli lobby. They all figured the best way to ingratiate yourself with the US administration is two fold, one, you invest more of your money in the United States. As we all know, the proceeds of Gulf and gas in that region, most of it comes back to the United States in the terms of treasury bonds, in terms of cash reserves in US bank and in terms of investment in the United States.
Qatar already has $100 billion investment in the United States. They announced recently that if the United States were to help in mediating the conflict, they will invest even more. Notice how after the rise of Trump, Saudi Arabia which was very concerned about Trump because he had a history of speaking ill against Saudi Arabia signed, announced an arms deal worth $110 billion and more is on the horizon. Qatar announced an arms deal of $24 billion and more on the horizon.
And the second part of how they ingratiate themselves is by getting close to the Israeli lobby and by expediting normalization with the occupation state of Israel. So, Qatar is doing that. It invited a slew of the most fanatic Zionist Islamaphobes here in this country like Alan Dershowitz to come to Qatar. For a very expensive and generous trip to those regions, they are willing to come back, both sides, those who support Saudi Arabia and those who support Qatar, after a few days, they are willing to come back and declare that Qatar or Saudi Arabia are full fledged democracies and they are fighting terrorism and they need to be closer to the United States. So, it’s basically like the DC think tank scene, they are at the will and service of Gulf governments in return for funding.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now As’ad, these historical relations you refer to between, say, Israel, United States, and the Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia in particular, which led to, shortly after President Trump was inaugurated, his first trip was to Saudi Arabia. How has the election of Donald Trump played into all of this?
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: I mean, the fact that Donald Trump is now a very close ally of the Saudi regime, the fact that Saudi Arabia was the first destination of a foreign trip by Donald Trump tells you that the closeness between the United States and Saudi Arabia is not entirely about oil. It’s not certainly about the Bush family. Obama was no less supportive of the Saudi regime than his predecessor. Every president since FDR has been very close with Saudi regime including the self-described human rights president Jimmy Carter. They all heaped praise on the Saudi regime despite its atrocious human rights record.
In the case of Obama, I mean, the first year there’s a picture still of him on the internet where he is bowing down literally to the Saudi king Abdullah at the time. After September 11th, there certainly were trouble in the relationship. There was more scrutiny of Saudi financial expenditure that reached into the pockets of fanatical groups worldwide.
However, American record on that subject is hypocritical at best because it is true Saudi Arabia has been involved for much of the history of the Cold War in funding and forming a network of fanatical Muslims from around the world as a way to face off against progressives, leftists, communists and socialists. But Saudi Arabia never did that alone and never did that on its whim. It was part of a coordinated effort with the United States and with Western power who at that time wanted to create an alternative to the more dominant secular progressive, feminist, socialist, communist trends and movements throughout the Middle East. So, there is a long history of American dirty involvement in that regard.
After September 11th and shortly before that, the United States decided since the collapse of the Soviet Union that they’ve had enough of these fanatical groups especially that, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of them wanted to turn their guns against the United States. And that’s when the problems occurred. I mean according to Economist Magazine, bin Laden had ties with the American, continued maybe up to 1994 in some forms in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. The United States woke up to the danger of these groups much later than it gives itself credit to.
So, Saudi Arabia, after September 11th, had to explain itself to the American Congress, media and the public. And it did so by basically spending lavishly on PR campaigns, signing more arms deals, and also getting closer to Israel, and also making declarations about how they represent moderate Islam and the fact that they will no more stop the American peace progress. So, there was a price to pay, but it certainly was much more about oil. I mean, look at the percentage of oil we get from Saudi Arabia today. It’s extremely negligible if any. There’s now shale oil sources coming to the United States. America is going to surpass Saudi Arabia as the top producer of oil. Having said that, we cannot lose sight of the value of Saudi Arabia to the United States on oil prices by virtue of their control within OPEC of production of oil, and that results in changes in prices. So, they have been very obedient in that regard to US interests.
The second record is Saudi Arabia has become now a strategic partner of America and Israel in the region. They are now part of the counterrevolutionary coalition, and this has been the case since during the Cold War. Saudi Arabia either funds or arms or both the most reactionary groups in the region along with Israel and the United States and Western powers in order to thwart any revolutionary potential in Arab countries. That is the case, that was the case during the Cold War. That has been the case since the so-called Arab Uprisings of 2011 where Saudi Arabia has been highly instrumental in undermining any potential progressive anti-Israeli trend in those uprisings and any democratic trends for sure.
SHARMINI PERIES: Finally, As’ad, what does all of this mean for the prospect of some kind of peace and settlement in Israel and in Palestine?
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Well, I think we should distinguish between what it does to Palestine and what it does to so-called American peace process. The peace process is contrary to everything that the Palestinians have aspired to over the decades in their struggle for independence. The peace process is basically a name for a process that legitimized Israeli war crimes, occupation and massacre. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, there is a war on the Palestinians today. Arab governments and Israel and the United States and Western powers are all part of the unusual horrific war being inflicted on the Palestinian people both in the diaspora as well in occupied Palestine and the refugee camps where they live in neighboring countries outside of Palestine.
The Gulf countries today are doing great services to the state of Israel. We know that UAE basically hosted the Mossad terrorists who came to kill Hamas leader a few years ago. The media of the Gulf, and Saudi Arabia controls pretty much close to 95% of all Arab media either directly or indirectly through funding and various methods of control. They are now using their media to basically advocate Zionist principles and scenarios for that of Israeli question.
There’s certainly normalization that is being practiced in all those Gulf countries. Saudi Arabia has now exchanged visits with state of Israel and some of that relationship is secret, some of it is not. They also have, they say they share an enemy. I mean, in Arab media controlled by Saudi Arabia and UAE and Qatar even, there is more hostility to Iran and Hezbollah and Hamas. That’s not the case in Qatar which still supports, rhetorically at least, Hamas but much less than before. There’s more hostility to Iran and Hezbollah than there is to Israel. There is a very mild and friendly language towards the state of Israel.
The suffering of the Palestinian is not what it used to be. The state of Kuwait is different. The Palestinians lived in Kuwait in large numbers prior to 1990 and they infused the political culture of Kuwait with element of justice and sympathy for the Palestinians. You see, Kuwait today is deviating away from the Gulf countries in terms of normalization, but certainly what is being cooked by this administration in terms of the historic deal as they call it between Israel and its enemies is basically nothing less than legitimization of Israeli occupation and the abandonment of Jerusalem as a capital for the Palestinians in a small mini state that is too small for the Palestinian aspiration anyway. And they basically want any facade of peace to allow for full and official recognition and normalization between Israel and Arab countries.
SHARMINI PERIES: I thank you so much for joining us today. I’ve been speaking with professor As’ad Abukhalil. He’s a leading expert in Middle East politics and a professor of political science at California State University in Stanislaus. He regularly writes at the website The Angry Arab News Service. I thank you so much for joining us today.