Gold: Western Inaction Pushing Saudi Arabia to Hamas, Hizbullah
Gold: Western Inaction Pushing Saudi Arabia to Hamas, Hizbullah

for Saudi Arabia, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the main issue; it is rather Iran - and the West's inaction vis-a-vis the Iranian threat.  So writes former Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dore Gold in a brief for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs' Institute for Contemporary Affairs.

"What is shaping Saudi Arabia's new diplomatic activism," Gold explains, "is the rapidly expanding Iranian threat and the weakness of the Western response."

Early Signs of a Bad Start

Gold feels that though expectations were raised that "the Riyadh Arab summit might provide a mechanism for restarting the Arab-Israeli peace process," it got off to a "bad start when Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal warned Israel that its rejection of the [Saudi complete-withdrawal] plan would leave its fate in the hands of the 'lords of war.' Rather than obtaining some flexibility, Israel was handed an ultimatum."

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah was to have had a mid-April gala dinner with President George W. Bush at the White House later this month - but abruptly canceled it. This was a clear signal, Gold writes, that the time was far from ripe for a Saudi-Israeli rapprochement under an American umbrella.

Saudi Arabia Turns to Hamas and Hizbullah

Why were the hopes of both the US and Olmert-government diplomats dashed? Gold quotes the Washington Post that "Riyadh had decided for now to seek common ground with Iran, Hamas, and Hizbullah." Why? Because the West has responded weakly to the growing Iranian threat.

Gold concurs with other experts in positing that Saudi Arabia feels threatened by Shiite-controlled Iran. Haifa University's Middle Eastern affairs expert Dr. David Bukai said at last month's Jerusalem Conference, "The main dispute in the Middle East is between the Shiites (10% of the world's Moslems) and the Sunnis and the so-called moderate nations. The Shiites are more threatening to Saudi Arabia than to Israel."

Iran is committed to "a second Iranian revolution," Gold writes, referring to a "revival of Iranian efforts to export revolutionary Shiism, wherever possible. In some Sunni-dominated countries, like Sudan and Syria, the Iranians hope to convert Sunnis to Shiism. In the [Persian] Gulf, there are already substantial Shiite populations. Indeed, Saudi Arabia's main vulnerability is in its oil-rich Eastern Province, which has nearly a majority of Shiites. Neighboring Bahrain, now connected to Saudi Arabia by a bridge, has an 80 percent Shiite majority. The potential for revolutionary subversion is enormous," as has already happened in the past.

Israel and the Saudi Plan

The Saudi plan, first advanced in 2002, has two demands that are anathema to most, if not all, Israelis. One is the "right of return" of millions of descendants of the roughly half-million Arabs who left Israel during the 1948 War for Independence. The second is a total and complete withdrawal from every inch Israel liberated in the 1967 Six Day War - thus stripping Israel of the "defensible borders" that President Bush said was Israel's right in his April 2004 letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Despite this, Gold writes, "Israeli diplomats had hoped that a modified peace plan might be adopted by the Arab heads of state that would leave out any references to the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel... When that seemed unlikely, there was increasing speculation that while the formal initiative would remain unchanged, then at least some other statements would be made separately that would try to reach out to Israeli public opinion and build mutual confidence." But this did not occur.

No More Western Apathy or Israeli Withdrawals

What must be done, Gold writes, is the following: For one thing, the West must be more assertive about countering Iranian power. In addition, bombastic summits and Israeli withdrawals are not helpful at this time: "The last thing [Saudi Arabia] needs are planeloads of Israeli negotiators and journalists in Riyadh. And with Hamas in power among the Palestinians and building its military strength daily in Gaza, Israel does not need to experiment with new withdrawals. Under such circumstances, quiet contacts between Israel and its neighbors make far more sense than grandiose public diplomacy."