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Israeli sub went through the Suez Canal 7, July 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Egypt, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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Here’s the best analysis that I’ve seen so far on the intriguing incident of one of Israel’s new Dolphin submarines going through the Suez Canal in Egypt. Here’s the crux:

The reason they were never sent through the canal before this, at least according to the conventional wisdom in defense circles, was that Israel did not want Egyptian or other observers getting a good look at the exterior of one of their most modern subs, the German-built Dolphins. There are rumors they carry Harpoon and perhaps Israeli ship-to-shore missiles that could carry nuclear warheads. And the Suez Canal is narrow and shallow, with three major cities along it full of people of all natonalities, so a sub passing through it is visible to the world.

So, up to now, Israel never sent its Dolphins through the Suez Canal. This time it did, presumably as a signal to Iran. That’s the real story here, not the fact that the sub won’t be based in Eilat: the Gulf of Aqaba is a narrow, easily closed waterway, and not where you’d want to bottle up one of your few state of the art subs, which may be your second-strike capability.

Saudi to allow Israeli jets across its airspace? 7, July 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Saudi Arabia.
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Reports suggest that Saudi Arabia has tacitly agreed that Israel could use their airspace in any raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities. According to the Times of London, Mossad’s director Meir Dagan held talks with Saudi counterparts as long ago as 2002 over the matter. This is in addition to persistent rumors that senior Saudi officials met briefly with Israel PM Ehud Olmert in 2006. It must be said, however, that these reports are sketchy in the extreme and Saudi officials and analysts strenuously deny such accusations.

However, Riyadh and indeed the rest of the GCC may collectively breathe a sigh of relief were Iran’s alleged Nuclear programme to be seriously derailed or destroyed. Even without any nuclear weapons Iran is already a bellicose and powerful country. Iran’s threat stems not only from its relatively potent military but from the extent of Shia links in GCC societies. Such concerns are particularly apparent in Bahrain and in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern provinces. Were Iran to obtain such weapons, aside from the elevated status that such weapons confer on the Tehran government, there are clearly fears that Iran would be yet more unconstrained in their actions.

Riyadh’s staunch denials are not surprising. Even though there are significant differences between Iran and its neighbours, the Saudi Arabian government cannot be seen to be tacitly sanctioning an Israeli raid on a fellow Muslim country. However, the exigencies of geopolitical strategy and real politik are powerful, just as they were when Saudi sanctioned the stationing of hundreds of thousands of Western troops in their country for Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s.

Indeed, it is hardly unknown for countries to engage in politically unpalatable acts if and when they are deemed necessary. A clear example of this can be found – somewhat ironically – in Iran in the 1980s when it had a quiet but close relationship with Israel against an expansionist Iraq. At the very least, this cooperation manifested itself in terms of Iranian oil shipments for Israeli arms. This is, however, denied by Iranian officials, though in the face of the available evidence this is more of a face-saving exercise than a serious rebuttal.

Today, however, with the threat of Iraq gone from the horizon of both countries, Iran has more of an opportunity to expand its influence in the region. This is the underlying premise behind Jordanian King Abdullah’s 2006 notion of a potential ‘Shia crescent’ descending on the Middle East. Israel sees this very expansion as a key threat and worries about an undeterrable nuclear-armed Iran offering more and more support to its proxy militant groups in the Levant.

Overall, there appears to be a confluence of opinion from the South of the Arabian Peninsula to the Mediterranean Sea stretching across the Atlantic that favours a nuclear-free Iran. The key question is how far the actors in question are willing to go to achieve this goal. Vice-president Biden’s comments yesterday maintaining that Israel is an independent country and can do as it wants have been widely perceived as giving the ‘green light’ to Israel to strike at Iran. Along with Saudi Arabia’s apparent stance on the matter and a general GCC antipathy towards a nuclear Iran, Biden’s comments tentatively suggest that a strike may be more a question of if, rather then when.