Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Saudi Corridor and the Israeli Strike | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Tel Aviv and Tehran are separated by around 1,900 kilometers, which is the distance that separates the Israeli fighter jets from their Iranian targets in the event of war breaking out between the two countries. However the direct route between the two countries is closed due to the presence of Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and so they are left with two alternative routes; Israeli aircraft could fly over the Red Sea and the Gulf to attack Iranian targets i.e. traveling around 4,500 kilometers. The other option is to fly north, via Turkey, and here they will only have to fly around 2,200 kilometers.

These geographical statistics may not be completely accurate however they assist us in understanding the political dimensions of various scenarios of military confrontation between Iran and Israel. Even if Israel is the strongest military force in our region, its powers are still limited, and its military is small when compared to the capabilities of a superpower like the United States, which has six military bases in the Gulf and Iraq, as well as aircraft carriers stationed directly off the coast of Iran. Furthermore, they are equipped with fleets of aircraft that can take off from the US, Europe, or oceans [from US aircraft carriers] and reach the farthest points in the world without the need to land at any airport, using their capabilities to refuel in mid-air, allowing them to surround any closed borders. As for Israel, it does not have the capabilities to enter a long-term war with a distant foe such as Iran, except with high risks.

This is why I was surprised when I read in The Times that sources had revealed that Saudi Arabia has signed a secret agreement with Israel, allowing it to use its airspace and territory to strike Iran. I said “firstly, such an astonishing secret could not be possible, or broadcast publicly, and secondly, Saudi Arabia cannot become embroiled in a war with Iran.”

It is more important to identify the actions and behavior of the countries involved than to analyze the credibility of this information. Saudi Arabia is considered to be the most conservative country in the Middle East and is well-known for avoiding becoming embroiled in military adventures, regardless of the political temptations or roles. The only exception to this was the war to liberate Kuwait which was a crucial war.

The most important reason to reject this story is that it would be completely irrational for Riyadh to ever allow the Israelis to use its airspace or cross its territory to strike Iran because this would mean Saudi Arabia’s practical involvement in a direct war with the Iranians. Perhaps, in reality, broadcasting this news was intended to embarrass Saudi Arabia and sabotage the already poor relations between Riyadh and Tehran. It is impossible that Saudi Arabia would purposefully involve itself in a war with Iran, as this is something that Saudi Arabia rejects principally and also because this represents a real risk to the safety and security of Saudi Arabia. Let’s not forget that Riyadh rejected the same requests made by the US in 2003 [to use its airspace] when it was preparing to invade Iraq. As a result of Saudi Arabia’s refusal to allow the US to pass through its airspace and land territory, Washington was forced to search for other corridors, which is something that resulted in a cooling in the relations between the two countries.

Saudi Arabia’s judgment can be seen in the manner which they have dealt with 50 years of regional conflict. Saudi Arabia has always avoided becoming embroiled in military confrontations, regardless of the magnitude of its political differences [with others]. I think that politicians in Riyadh are well aware that Iran is no small country, and that both Iran and Saudi Arabia have the longest coastlines in the Gulf. They know that getting involved in the war by allowing Israeli or even American jets to use its airspace would mean Saudi Arabia becoming practically involved in a war with Iran. Nobody can predict what would happen after this; Saddam Hussein was embroiled in a terrible war with Iran for eight years due to his foolishness.

The Saudi Arabians are certainly concerned with Iran’s nuclear project and fear that this is targeting them and the rest of the Gulf States; however this suspicion is not enough of a motive to get involved in a destructive war of adventure with a country that is three times the size of Saudi Arabia.