In Saudi Arabia, Public Opinion about Israel Is Shifting

June 12 2018

While the growing cooperation between Jerusalem and Riyadh, especially regarding the threat to both posed by Iran, is hardly a secret, it has generally stayed out of public view and has not been reflected in popular opinion. But recently the change in attitude has begun to creep into the Saudi press, as Z. Harel details:

Saudi intellectuals, journalists, and writers have increasingly expressed open support for Israel, approving of its policy towards Iran and even calling to normalize relations and make peace with it. This, they say, could put a stop to Iran’s hostile policies, since the perpetuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict serves Iran’s expansionist ambitions. In some cases, these Saudi intellectuals and journalists have also expressed support for Israel in matters pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and especially the clashes on the Gaza border as part of the “Great Return March” campaign. Some of them blamed the events on Hamas and on Iran, which they said were promoting their interests at the expense of the children of Gaza.

It should be noted that this is not the first time such voices are heard in Saudi Arabia. . . . It should also be mentioned that, alongside the clear trend of articles supporting Israel, the Saudi media continue to publish many articles that criticize it.

Particularly stark is the position taken on social media by the liberal Saudi intellectual Turki al-Hamad, translated by Harel as follows:

I was with a group of friends and an argument broke out about the Israeli attacks on Iranian positions in Syria. One of them stood up to condemn the Israeli attacks on an Arab country. To be honest, I was surprised at this. What does he expect Israel to do when it sees the Iranian snake coiling itself around it? . . . Naturally, it couldn’t stand idly by. We are hostile to Israel [just] because it is Israel, not because it poses a threat. That’s how we were brought up and how they [the Israelis] were brought up, so that a psychological barrier has been created between the sides. The real threat in the Gulf today is Iran, but the veil of the traditional resentment toward Israel prevents us from seeing this reality. Let them call [me] pro-Zionist. Zionism is better for my country than the Arab nationalism that has caused us losses.

When the violence along the Gaza border escalated sharply on May 14, Hamad openly expressed his sympathies with Israel, commenting that the Israel-Palestinian conflict “has become boring” and is now “a source of income for some people and a way to grant false legitimacy to the activities of others.”

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Read more at MEMRI

More about: Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israel-Arab relations, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Saudi Arabia

A Better Syria Strategy Can Help Achieve the U.S. Goal of Countering Iran

While the Trump administration has reversed much of its predecessor’s effort to realign Washington with Tehran, and has effectively used sanctions to exert economic pressure on the Islamic Republic, Omar Hassino argues that these measures might not be enough:

Iran and its militias control more territory and natural resources in Syria and Iraq than before President Trump took office. . . . The U.S. should back the low-cost insurgency approach that has already shown potential in southwest Syria to bleed the Iranian forces and increase the costs of their expansion and [of Tehran’s] support for the Assad regime. It makes no sense that Iran can fund low-cost insurgencies to bleed American allies in the region, but the United States cannot counter with the same. The administration should also consider expanding support to the proxy forces that it currently works with—such as the Revolution Commandos near the [U.S.] al-Tanf garrison in southwest Syria—for the purpose of fighting and eliminating Iranian-backed militias. This limited escalation can curb Iranian expansion and put pressure on the Assad regime in the long term.

Furthermore, in this vein, the U.S. should empower peaceful Syrian civil-society groups and local councils operating outside Assad-regime control. Last year, the Trump administration eliminated assistance for stabilization in Syria, including funding going to secular anti-Assad civil-society groups that were also combating al-Qaeda’s ideology, as well as the Syrian [medical and civil-defense group known as] the White Helmets, before quickly [restoring] some of this funding. Yet the funding has still not completely been resumed, and if this administration takes an approach similar to its predecessor’s in relying on regional powers such as Turkey, these powers will instead fund groups aligned ideologically with Muslim Brotherhood. This is already happening in Idlib.

The United States must [also] jettison the Obama-era [strategy of establishing] “de-escalation zones.” These zones were from the start largely a Russian ruse to help the Assad regime conquer opposition areas, and they succeeded. Now that the regime controls most of Syria and Iranian proxies are dominant within the regime side, support for de-escalation is tantamount to support for Iranian expansion. The United States must [instead] prevent further expansion by the Assad regime and Iran in parts of the country that they still do not control.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy