An impending 20 billion dollar American arms deal with Saudi Arabia, in which the Saudis would receive state-of-the-art military equipment over the next decade, is fraught with potential dangers for Israel, former Israeli ambassador to the UN Dore Gold told Ynetnews on Tuesday.
Gold is President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), and is author of 'Hatred's Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia supports the New Global Terrorism.'
Speaking by phone from his home in Jerusalem, Gold said the new arms deal failed to take into consideration a number of problematic scenarios. "There are a broad set of very possible scenarios that Israel certainly has to take into consideration.
Several years ago, Israel received reports of the interrogation of al-Qaeda captives who admitted that their organization had penetrated the Saudi Arabian air force, and that it was planning to take control of several Saudi F-15s based at Tabuk in north Western Saudi Arabia, near Eilat, and fly the fighter planes into sky scrapers in Tel Aviv," Gold said.
"From the pattern of past al-Qaeda attacks in Saudi Arabia, many western observers have concluded that elements of the Saudi national guard colluded with the attackers. Which only further substantiates Western concern that al-Qaeda has penetrated different branches of Saudi Armed forces.
So even without a militant Islamic takeover in Saudi Arabia, there are multiple sources of concern for Israel and United States," he added. Gold also cited figures according to which half of the insurgents in Iraq who emarbarked on a jihad against coalition forces were Saudi.
"There is abundant evidence, despite the efforts of Saudi security forces to quell al-Qaeda in the Kingdom, that large parts of Saudi Arabia have become a hot house for radical Sunni Islam," Gold warned.
On Friday, an American defense department official said that the threat posed by Shiite Iran to Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia made the arms transfers necessary. "We've been working very hard on the Saudi arms package, which we believe is critical... to deal with the changing strategic threat from Iran and other forces," the official said, according to AFP.
That view was accepted by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who told a weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday: "We understand the need of the United States to support the Arab moderate states, and there is a need for a united front between the US and us regarding Iran."
Iran, for its part, condemned the arms deal, and charged on Monday that the US was trying to create a "horror scenario" in the Middle East. But the American attempt to arm Sunni states to deal with the Shiite Iranian threat was misguided, Gold said.
"The current radical Islamic wave that Western alliance is facing has two sources. First, the Islamic revolution in Iran led by Ayatollah Khamenei. And the second is the rise of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, much of which is backed by Saudi Arabia. Therefore an effective counter-strategy has to take into account both sources of the problem," he said.
'Israeli gov't suffers from certain myopia'
As Israel and its neighbors prepared for a Middle Eastern peace conference this fall, Gold said that Saudi participation would not be a negative development, but added that "Israel doesn't have to roll back to 1967 lines in order to get a Saudi foreign minister to attend a middle east peace summit."
"If the Saudis wish to resume that level of participation, no one could object," Gold said.
He added, however, that "when it comes to Saudi Arabia, the Israeli government suffers from a certain myopia, forgetting that in the 9/11 attacks, 15 of the 19 terrorists were Saudis, and that up until recently, Saudi Arabia was the primary funder of Hamas during the high point of the suicide bombing attacks against Israel."
"There may be a limited basis of dialogue with Saudi Arabia which should be conducted in secret channels, with very limited aims. But US and Israeli officials should be reticent before recommending high profile Saudi-Israeli meetings on the White House lawn or in Jerusalem," Gold said.
Citing a written pledge made by Bush to former prime minister Ariel Sharon, according to which Israel would not be expected to withdraw to the 1967 lines, Gold said: "By embracing the Arab peace initiative (which calls for an Israeli retreat to the '67 lines), the Bush administration is creating some confusion over whether Bush's assurances to Sharon still stand. And therefore, it should issue a clarification in this regard."