Can something be done in wake of the Saudi-Iranian deal?

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Jacob Nagel

Brig. Gen. (Res.) Professor Jacob Nagel is a former national security adviser to the prime minister and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Despite the renewal of ties between Riyadh and Tehran, there is still the possibility of rectification and there are still important things to offer the Saudis, mainly from the US, but certainly also from Israel.

Israeli National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer have recently held very important meetings with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his team, with the participation of Deputy National Security Advisor Gil Reich and other senior representatives from the Ministry of Defense, the Foreign Ministry, the Mossad, and the IDF. Despite the fact that the meeting was held during a tense period in Israel’s relations with the US, it carried utmost importance for the joint progress on some important issues. According to the joint statement that came out after the meeting, there is an understanding between the parties, although there are still disagreements regarding the required course of action and especially the pace.

In accordance with the priorities set by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, topping the Israeli list were the issues of Iran and Saudi Arabia. The American hosts apparently raised questions about the Palestinian Authority, Temple Mount, Judea and Samaria, Russia, Ukraine, and China, and even maybe asked about Israel’s internal debates.

Iran and Saudi Arabia were indeed at the center of the discourse, given Iran’s continued aggressive nuclear behavior and its support for terrorism, the dangers resulting from the rapprochement between Iran and Russia and their support for Russia’s war in Ukraine, as well as Iran’s attempts to entrench itself in Syria. It is clear that the importance of strengthening cooperation with the Saudis was raised during the meetings, which took place before the Iran-Saudi announcement on renewing their relations under Chinese auspices.


The intel picture about the nuclear program is common and clear to both countries, but the significance derived from it and the immediate actions needed are apparently still not agreed upon. Tehran has already enriched enough uranium for several bombs at a level of 60% purity. According to recent International Atomic Energy Agency findings, Tehran was also caught enriching to 84% (it is not clear exactly how much and why they did it) and could immediately switch to 93% enrichment, suitable for the bomb. In addition, Iran denies IAEA inspectors access to suspicious sites and refuses to answer the open questions to the IAEA.

It is very important to understand that. in essence. there is no big difference between enrichment to 60% and 84% – and not even to 93%. The real problem started when Tehran enriched massively to 20%, and the world didn’t react, because enriching to 20% is about 70% of the time needed to reach to the 93% point, and it requires almost 100% of the technological know-how. On the other hand, it is important to remember that the world has marked the enrichment to 90% as its red line, and Iran’s defiant behavior – with the lack of a global response – is very problematic, so Iran must be punished, even now, for its behavior, with a clear and appropriate response.

Israel has a genuine desire to help the US reach a good, broad, and comprehensive agreement that closes all Iranian paths to the bomb for a very long period. It will not happen before Iran realizes that Israel or the US, or even better, both of them together, will attack it. Although Israel has the capability to go it alone, it is preferable to have the US play a role in the preparation and execution of such a plan.

Under no circumstances should Israel ask the US for additional budgets or weapons systems. What Israel really needs from the US is mainly flexibility and advancement in supplying the systems that have already been purchased (such as tanker aircraft), or are about to be purchased, and a massive increase in the pre-deployment in Israel of advanced ammunition (like JDAM, artillery, etc.), and maybe in the future, even Israeli-American active air and missile defense systems, once purchased for US needs.

Israel and the US can jointly put on the table a credible military threat and a clear message of genuine readiness for action. It is very important to make a clear American statement that Israel has an independent capability to attack Iran and that the US will support such action, before and after. If this happens alongside massive economic pressure and active support for the riots in Iran, perhaps it could lead to change in Iran, but if not – then it will result in the threats being put into action.

Saudi Arabia

The meeting took place before the surprising announcement of the resumption of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which constitutes a significant deterioration in the balance of power in the Gulf and in the ties between Riyadh and Washington, but of course, also affects Israel. The declaration contained a paragraph about each country’s sovereignty and its freedom to choose its future, so if we want to stay optimistic, maybe it is a clue from the Saudis on their desire to reach an agreement with Israel in the future.

Despite the declaration, there is still the possibility of rectifying the situation, and particularly, there are still important things to offer the Saudis, mainly from the US, but certainly also from Israel.

The US can offer the Saudis cooperation and agreements such as with Israel, India, and Taiwan, without compromising Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME). For example: supplying predefined military equipment that will not depend on domestic US politics; real joint fighting against Iranian aggression, despite the resumption of relations; a free-trade agreement; a kind of MOU signed with Israel (without money, but with pre-purchased contents); trilateral cooperation with Israel in R&D and technology, and even in the future – cooperation in missile defense when possible, including the supply (from the US, if needed) of adapted American/Israeli systems.

In any case, it will be not wise to offer the Saudis a full and independent nuclear fuel cycle, and promises that cannot be implemented in Congress, such as a NATO-style treaty and a full collective defense commitment like that found in Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty.

When it comes to cooperation – perhaps even trilateral – in civilian nuclear technologies, there is much we can do, and it will be elaborated on in a separate article.

In return, the Saudis can provide the US and Israel with a full comprehensive peace agreement, including bringing other countries (Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan) to the negotiating table, using a phased method, and of course, they should not overheat their relations with Iran.

The Chinese issue, which apparently came up also on the meetings’ sidelines, is very important to the US, especially now that China brokered the deal between Iran and the Saudis. It appears as a “double finger in the US eye”. Israel must fully adopt the American approach, and in any conflict, clearly choose the American side, including in cooperation with Taiwan. The regulatory processes that have begun in Israel indicate that this approach is beginning to be implemented.

Brigadier General (res.) Jacob Nagel is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a visiting professor at the Technion aerospace faculty. He previously served as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security advisor and head of the National Security Council (acting).



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