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July 5, 2009
Will the Saudis turn a blind eye if Israel attacks Iran?
Uzi Mahnaimi and Sarah Baxter of the TimesOnline are reporting that Israeli defense officials have assured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Saudi Arabia would look the other way if Israeli warplanes flew over the Kingdom on their way to Iran.
Or, at least, they might have. Now that the information has been leaked, I doubt very much if the Royals would risk the backlash from their fundamentalist base:
Earlier this year Meir Dagan, Mossad's director since 2002, held secret talks with Saudi officials to discuss the possibility. Bolton is absolutely correct. The Saudis would not mind at all if Iran's nuclear threat were to disappear. The same goes for any other sane regime in the Middle East. No one wants Iran to get the bomb - not with that crew in charge in Tehran.
The Israeli press has already carried unconfirmed reports that high-ranking officials, including Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister, held meetings with Saudi colleagues. The reports were denied by Saudi officials.
"The Saudis have tacitly agreed to the Israeli air force flying through their airspace on a mission which is supposed to be in the common interests of both Israel and Saudi Arabia," a diplomatic source said last week.
Although the countries have no formal diplomatic relations, an Israeli defence source confirmed that Mossad maintained "working relations" with the Saudis.
John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations who recently visited the Gulf, said it was "entirely logical" for the Israelis to use Saudi airspace.
Bolton, who has talked to several Arab leaders, added: "None of them would say anything about it publicly but they would certainly acquiesce in an overflight if the Israelis didn't trumpet it as a big success."
Arab states would condemn a raid when they spoke at the UN but would be privately relieved to see the threat of an Iranian bomb removed, he said.
But it is now an open question whether the Royal Family could actually allow such overflights. It would certainly rile the Wahabbists who weild great influence with ordinary Saudis and that might endanger the family's hold on power. If the overflights had occurred without advance warning, they could have feigned surprise. That option is now out the window.
Still, the threat is so great they may yet allow the Israeli air force to traverse their air space without saying anything.