Date: 15/11/2023 Time: 09:34
By Pinhas Inbari
The war in Gaza began with a Hamas attack to stop the agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and therefore the picture of victory must be this historic agreement and the establishment of an Arab-Israeli NATO that will confront the Shiite Crescent, which today is a Shiite-Russian Crescent with China in the background.
Therefore, Israel must coordinate the picture of the day after with Saudi Arabia, and there are several problems that must be addressed, before meeting the great difficulty posed by the confederation of sectors called the government of Israel.
At a conference of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs in Jerusalem, shortly before the outbreak of the Gaza war, a guest from Saudi Arabia spoke about the need to establish the Red Sea Alliance of the countries on its shores in order to deal together with the Houthi challenge from Yemen.
The launch of missiles from Yemen into Israel illustrated this need, especially since the missiles were shot down by Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States. During the fighting in Gaza, the Houthis also hit the Bahraini unit with the inter-Arab force stationed in Saudi Arabia, which could be the nucleus for the Arab Israeli NATO.
The inter-Arab force, which includes Israel’s allies in the Gulf as well as Sudan, does not include Jordan and Egypt, and this requires explanation.
First, there is a hidden competition between Saudi Arabia and Egypt over who leads the Sunni world. Saudi Arabia cannot join the Abraham Accords, because it cannot come after the Gulf states. It must initiate something new that emphasizes its leadership, and that is the Red Sea Alliance.
However, the Red Sea alliance stimulates competition with Egypt for the Arab leadership, which began with tensions between the two Sunni powers over the islands at the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, Sanafir and Tiran, which Israel transferred to Egypt, and which Saudi Arabia demanded for itself, and Egypt surrendered as part of improving Saudi-Israeli relations and opening Saudi skies to flights from Israel. It is unclear what Egypt received in return, if at all, and its concession demonstrated that it was not, rather, Saudi Arabia is the real leader of the Arabs.
Public opinion in Egypt did not accept this concession easily, because deep in its consciousness that Egypt is “um al-Dunia” – the center of the world. Egyptians will not easily accept the comprehension that Egypt is no longer the key country of the Middle East, but Saudi Arabia.
Note that President Mubarak moved his regional meetings from Sharm el-Sheikh at the eastern edge of Egypt to El Alamein, at the edge west of Egypt. Is he signalling that by ceding the islands, he will allow Saudi Arabia to take command of the Red Sea Alliance? Maybe, but not without price.
Egypt is mired in a deep economic crisis, and only Saudi Arabia can save it. Will that be the price? Extricating Egypt from the depths of the economic crisis?
Egypt did not respond to Saudi entreaties to help it fight the Houthis in Yemen, so as not to be under Saudi command, and the memory of the defeat it suffered in the Yemeni war in the 1960s was imprinted on it.
The one who also did not respond to Saudi entreaties was Jordan. First, it does not send the Jordanian army on missions outside its borders, not even when ISIS burned its pilot alive. It cannot afford to receive coffins of dead Bedouins in the killing fields far from its borders. The Jordanian Bedouin army is a defence army, not an offensive one.
In addition, it and Saudi Arabia have competition over who guards the holy sites. Saudi Arabia does not accept the Hashemite pretension of being the custodian of Al-Aqsa, and according to the new Saudi textbooks, the Al-Aqsa Mosque is defined as Saudi Arabia’s responsibility, and Trump’s deal proposed establishing an all-Muslim loyalty council for Al-Aqsa under Saudi leadership.
Jordan, of course, cannot accept this, and its refusal to participate in the inter-Arab force, in addition to the dispute over Al-Aqsa, prevented it from receiving Saudi aid, which is one of the causes of Jordan’s deep economic crisis, parallel to the crisis of Egypt and Lebanon. The withdrawal of UAE and Saudi funds from Beirut’s banks was a major factor in Lebanon’s economic collapse.
Before it is possible to talk about a Sunni Israeli NATO, there must be an internal overhaul of arrangements in the Arab world, and Egyptian-Jordanian acceptance of Saudi hegemony, and this can only happen in cooperation with Israel – and this is the problem.
A condition for any development is calming the Palestinian arena. All the moves that enabled the development of relations between Israel and the Gulf were the relative quiet in the Palestinian arena. We must admit that it was Israel that stirred the Palestinian arena, with the “Jewish” threat to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the flag processions “Let your village burn” in the Old City, and the rioting of the hilltop youth in the West Bank.
After Israel set fire to the West Bank, it was easier for Iran to organize its response in the West Bank and Gaza, and all the negotiations for a historic Israeli-Saudi agreement went into a tailspin.
US Secretary of State Blinken’s efforts to calm the Palestinian arena clash with the victory picture of the confederation of sectors called the government of Israel. The Political Judaism of Ben-Gvir, Smotrich and Strok talk about coming back to Gush Katif. They are the leading sectors the sectors and as long as this is the case, there is no victory photo of an agreement with Saudi Arabia.
Pinhas Inbari is a veteran Arab affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper, and currently serves as an analyst for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.