Israeli general tells Saudi paper that Saudi Arabia has never been Israel’s enemy

Signs of Saudi-Israeli rapprochement are growing. General Gadi Eisenkot talks about intelligence co-operation with Arab countries against Iran, the common enemy.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) - For the first time in history a Saudi-owned paper, Elaph, published an interview with a senior Israeli leader, Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces General Gadi Eisenkot.

In what is perhaps another first, a top Israeli leader said publicly that Saudi Arabia “has never been our enemy. It has not fought us nor have we fought it”. 

Still, Israeli daily Maariv noted today that despite growing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the latter “is not yet ready" for official relations with Israel.

Since Mohammad bin Salman became Saudi crown prince, the alliance between Riyadh and Tel Aviv has become more visible and is no longer a taboo.

In Paris and Beirut, some reports mention a possible meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and Mohammad bin Salman in the French capital, brokered by Jared Kushner, son-in-law of US President Donald Trump.

Relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia have always been secret, and Israel has always kept a low profile to avoid embarrassing the House of Saud, the Custodians of Islam’s two most sacred places.

Nevertheless, Riyadh began to prepare Arab public opinion for rapprochement with Israel when it launched the Arab Peace initiative, offering diplomatic relations between Tel Aviv and all Arab countries, “in exchange for full withdrawal from all occupied Arab territories, [and] recognition of an independent Palestinian state with al-Quds al-Sharif (Jerusalem) as its capital”.

Although Israel has never accepted King Abdullah's proposal, Saudi Arabia has continued to seek better relations, albeit behind the scenes.

Until a few months ago, General Anwar Eshki, adviser to King Salman and head of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies, was Saudi Arabia’s chief point man with Tel Aviv.

Last year, he visited Israel and said that Saudi Arabia would recognise Israel after the Arab Peace Proposal was implemented.

When he visited Israel in May, US President Donald Trump also promised to get Israel recognised by almost all Arab countries.

In an interview with Elaph, General Gadi Eisenkot said that the danger is Iran and that Israel is “ready to exchange experiences with moderate Arab countries and to exchange intelligence to confront Iran”.

At the same time, he said, “We have no intention of attacking Hezbollah in Lebanon and bring about a war,” adding, However, we will not accept a strategic threat to Israel.”

With respect to Lebanon, the general said he was happy with the past 11 years of relative quiet since the Second Lebanon War. He admitted though that the situation in that country was complex and that the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Riyadh was “surprising.”

Regarding Hezbollah, Eisenkot noted that the Shia group “is beginning to feel financial pressure and starting to get into big material problems,” adding that there has been a noticeable decline in support for the group in Lebanon, even in places like Dahiya, a Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut, at a level unseen before.

The Israeli Chief of State rejected accusations that Israel supported the Islamic State group (ISIS) and Al Nusra. "The claims we're aiding the Nusra Front and its ilk in the Golan are baseless. They're our enemies, just like ISIS," Eisenkot said.

“We have attacked them more than once,” he added. “We aid the villagers on the Golan medically and we help our Druze brothers. We help only in humanitarian ways.”  

On the crisis in Syria, he noted that Israel prevented Al Nusra from getting into Hadar, in south-western Syria.

Still, although “ISIS has been severely beaten and the elimination of the organisation will come soon, its ideas can return in the guise of other names and groups in Syria and the region”. (PB)