Saudi Arabia Has Signaled Its Intention to Contain Iran, but Does It Have the Capability?

Nov. 29 2017

In recent weeks, Riyadh has signaled an intention to respond more aggressively to Tehran’s growing power in the Middle East. But it is unclear whether the Saudi kingdom can succeed, as Jonathan Spyer writes:

[T]he Iranians have effectively won in Lebanon, are winning in Syria and Iraq, and are bleeding the Saudis in Yemen. In each context, Iran has been able to establish proxies that give it political and military influence in [the relevant] country. Tehran also has successfully identified and exploited seams in its enemies’ camps. . . .

There is precious little evidence to suggest that the Saudis have learned from their earlier failures. . . . So far, [Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s] actions consist of removing the veneer of multi-confessionalism from the Lebanese government [which is in fact dominated by the Shiite Hizballah], and threatening his enemies in Yemen. Those may be important symbolic steps, but they do nothing to provide Riyadh with the hard power it has always lacked. Rolling back the Iranians, directly or in alliance with local forces, would almost certainly depend not on the Saudis or the United Arab Emirates but on the involvement of the United States—and in the Lebanese case, perhaps Israel.

It’s impossible to say the extent to which Washington and Jerusalem are on board with such an effort. However, the statements last week by Defense Secretary James Mattis suggesting that the United States intends to stay in eastern Syria, and by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel will continue to enforce its security interests in Syria, suggest that these players may have a role to play.

Past Saudi behavior might encourage skepticism. Nevertheless, the Iranians here have a clearly visible Achilles’ heel. In all the countries where the Saudi-Iran rivalry has played out, Tehran has proved to have severe difficulties in developing lasting alliances outside of Shiite and other minority communities. . . . Elements of the Iraqi Shiite political class also have no interest in falling under the thumb of Tehran. A cunning player looking to sponsor proxies and undermine Iranian influence would find much to work with. . . . The prospects of success for the Saudis will depend on the willingness of their allies to engage alongside them, and a steep learning curve in the methods of political and proxy warfare.

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Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy

How Israel Can Best Benefit from Its Newfound Friendship with Brazil

Jan. 21 2019

Earlier this month, Benjamin Netanyahu was in Brazil—the first Israeli prime minister to visit the country—for the inauguration of its controversial new president Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has made clear his eagerness to break with his predecessors’ hostility toward the Jewish state, and Netanyahu has responded positively. To Emanuele Ottolenghi, the improved relations offer an opportunity for joint cooperation against Hizballah, which gets much of its revenue through cooperation with Brazilian drug cartels. In this cooperative effort, Ottolenghi cautions against repeating mistakes made in an earlier outreach to Paraguay:

Hizballah relies heavily on the proceeds of transnational crime networks, especially in the Tri-Border Area [where] Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay [meet], but until recently, Brazilian officials were loath to acknowledge its presence in their country or its involvement in organized crime. [But] Bolsonaro’s top priority is fighting organized crime. Combating Hizballah’s terror finance is a vital Israeli interest. Making the case that Israel’s and Brazil’s interests dovetail perfectly should be easy. . . .

But Israel should be careful not to prioritize symbols over substance, a mistake already made once in Latin America. During 2013-2018, Netanyahu invested heavily in his relationship with Horacio Cartes, then president of Paraguay. Cartes, . . . too, had a genuine warmth for Israel, which culminated in his decision in May 2018 to move Paraguay’s embassy to Jerusalem. Most importantly, from Israel’s point of view, Paraguay began voting with Israel against the Arab bloc at the UN.

However, the Paraguayan side of the Tri-Border Area remained ground zero for Hizballah’s money laundering in Latin America. The Cartes administration hardly lifted a finger to act against the terror funding networks. . . . Worse—when critics raised Hizballah’s [local] terror-financing activities, Paraguayan ministers confronted their Israeli counterparts, threatening to change Paraguay’s friendly international posture toward Israel. [And] as soon as Cartes left office, his successor, Mario Abdo Benítez, moved Paraguay’s embassy back to Tel Aviv. . . . Israel’s five-year investment ultimately yielded no embassy move and no progress on combating Hizballah’s terror network. . . .

Israel should make the battle against Hizballah’s terror-finance networks in Latin America its top regional priority.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Brazil, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Latin America