According to a recent leak of diplomatic cables, Israel has instructed its foreign ambassadors to lobby their host countries in support to Saudi’s actions towards Lebanon. First disclosed by Israel’s Channel 10 news, the diplomatic cables appear to show a convergence in the foreign policy goals of Israel and Saudi Arabia. The cables sent from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, informed foreign embassies to echo Riyadh’s line that Iran and Hezbollah, not Israel and Saudi Arabia, were destabilizing Lebanon. The cables instructed the Israeli ambassadors to contact their host countries’ respective governments, and emphasize that the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’d Al-Hariri is illustrative of Hezbollah’s danger to stability in the country and the wider region. Additionally, the ambassadors were also told to convey support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who Riyadh claim are puppets of Iran.
It is not clear whether or not Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the cables. Regardless, the content of the leaked cables appears to show an unusual alliance between the two Middle Eastern countries. Saudi Arabia and Israel have been historically antagonistic to one another, with the former being one of the traditional supporters of the Palestinian cause, much to the latter’s chagrin. However, in recent years, the interests of the two countries has converged, driven mainly by a shared perception that Iranian influence is growing in the region. In Iraq, the rise of Shi’ite militias, alongside the growing power of Shi’ites within the government, has brought the country more and more into Tehran’s orbit. The recent setbacks for the Iraqi Kurds, for example, is no doubt partly driven by an Iranian desire to quash Kurdish independence, lest their brothers across the border in Iran make similar moves. In Syria, meanwhile, the Assad regime’s recent victories against Islamic State and rebel forces are a boon to Iranian ambitions in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Iran’s perceived advances have emboldened both Israel and Saudi Arabia to take more aggressive stances towards their regional rival. Israel, long a proponent of a military solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, has renewed its calls for the world to cancel the Iranian nuclear deal. In addition, Israel has grown weary of Hezbollah’s growing influence in Lebanon, a country long divided along religious and ethnic lines. As Hezbollah’s military power has expanded during the Syrian Civil War, Israel fears that the political party and quasi-terrorist organization may soon return in force to its traditional attacks against Israeli territory. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has initiated a flurry of bold actions targeted against what it deems Iranian influence in the region. In he most recent months, Saudi Arabia has escalated its intervention in Yemen, embargoed Qatar, and claimed Lebanon had declared war against it.
In the context of recent escalations in the region, the leaked Israel diplomatic cables is a worrying sign for peace in the Middle East. If the cables are to be interpreted as a precursor to Israeli or Saudi intervention in Lebanon, there is a little hope that it could remain localized. Hezbollah’s current presence in Lebanese government and society dwarfs its position when Israel last invaded in 2006, meaning that a conflict would surely be long and bloody. Any significant intervention would also with no doubt escalate the cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia; it will most probably cause proxies or a general war. In either case, the fragile stability in the region would almost certainly shatter, opening up an era of unprecedented conflict in the Middle East.
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