While the media, with the attention span of a small child, jumps frantically from one “crisis” to another in its coverage of developments in the Middle East, and politicians obsessed with defeating Donald Trump in 2020 look for ways to blame Iran’s increasingly bellicose behavior on this administration, something very important is happening almost without notice. A strategic alliance is emerging that defies all conventional wisdom and that has the potential to reshape — in a very good way — the balance of power in a very troubled region.
The United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, the keeper of Islam’s Two Holy Cities, are banding together to roll back the tide of Iranian expansionism set loose by Barack Obama, John Kerry and the other American apologists who crafted the ruinous Iranian nuclear deal.
The United States has maintained a robust military presence in the Middle East for a generation. That presence — not only carrier battle groups and special operations forces, but also fixed bases in Turkey, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar — is being significantly enhanced, and one of the most dramatic signs of that enhancement involves the expansion of an American operating base in Saudi Arabia.
Several hundred US Air Force personnel are already on the ground in Saudi Arabia working on enlarging facilities at Prince Sultan Air Base that will house fighter planes and Patriot missiles. American forces left this facility 15 years ago in the face of tensions caused by radical Islamic forces. The threat of Iranian expansionism and the new, more moderate regime in Riyadh has brought them back.
Additionally, the American 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf is providing escorts for American-flagged vessels threatened by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) pirates who apparently have added hacking ship navigation systems to their bag of tricks to lure vessels into Iranian territorial waters. Britain is providing similar protection for its vessels, and the U.S. Central Command recently announced that it was developing a broader, multinational effort, known as Operation Sentinel, aimed at involving additional nations in the escort of merchant vessels in the area.
Meanwhile Israel, which more than any other nation finds itself face to face with the danger posed by Iran, Hezbollah, and a legion of Hezbollah clones, has gone on the offense. For some time now, Israel has been staging regular strikes on Iranian and Hezbollah facilities in Lebanon and Syria with the goal of interdicting movement of advanced weapons into areas bordering Israel. The scope of these preemptive efforts appears to have expanded dramatically.
While not formally acknowledged by Tel Aviv, experts believe that recent air strikes in Iraq were carried out by Israeli jets. Bases in Iraq controlled by Shia militias working on behalf of Iran were hit on two occasions last month. Among the dead at both locations were reportedly significant numbers of IRGC personnel working to destabilize the existing Iraqi regime and help expand Iran’s influence in the region. The strikes in Iraq follow known Israeli attacks on Iraqi militia bases located inside Syria.
Syria also reported earlier this summer that there had been a series of sabotage attacks against underwater oil pipelines off its coast. The attacks, which required sophisticated equipment and highly trained personnel, were obviously designed to deny badly needed fuel to Iran’s ally, the Syrian regime. Based on my many years of experience in covert action campaigns, including extensive sabotage operations, I would wager that the Israelis were behind these attacks as well.
But it is perhaps Saudi Arabia that has moved most aggressively — not simply to confront Iran, but to shift its foreign and domestic policies into alignment with Israel and the United States.
Just as concerned as the United States and other nations about Iranian threats to shipping in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, the Saudis are working hard to guarantee freedom of navigation. Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Energy Khalid Al-Falih met recently with U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry to discuss strengthening cooperation with the United States generally, and to defeat threats to oil markets in particular.
Saudi Arabia also convened an extraordinary series of summit meetings in Mecca at the end of May to consider the threat posed by Iranian aggression and to coordinate a united front amongst Arab nations in the region to confront it. Present were member nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League, and their message to Iran could not have been more clear. The summits produced calls for Iran to abandon its subversive policies against Arab countries and back away from its drive to dominate the region.
Those summits and Saudi Arabia’s other moves on the international front have occurred against the backdrop of momentous internal developments in which the government made groundbreaking decisions to enable the Kingdom to champion moderate Islam and to make clear its rejection of all forms of extremism.
The language of the “Charter of Makkah,” unanimously endorsed on May 28, 2019, by an unprecedented meeting in Mecca of leading Muslim scholars from 137 nations, is dramatic. The Charter offers Muslims around the world guidance on concepts that speak to the true meaning of Islam, and that are orientated around core principles, among them the following:
- “All people, regardless of their different ethnicities, races and nationalities, are equal under God.
- “We reject religious and ethnic claims of “preference.”
- “Civilized cultural dialogue is the most effective way to achieve tolerance and understanding, deepen community ties, and overcome obstacles to coexistence…
- “All Muslims should work together to prevent destruction and benefit humanity. We should establish a noble and effective alliance that goes beyond theory and empty slogans and tackles the root causes of terrorism.
- “We should advance laws to deter the promotion of hatred, the instigation of violence and terrorism, or a clash of civilizations, which foster religious and ethnic disputes.
- “All individuals must combat terrorism and injustice, and reject exploitation and the violation of human rights…
- “The empowerment of women should not be undermined by marginalizing their role, disrespecting their dignity, reducing their status, or impeding their opportunities, whether in religious, academic, political or social affairs. Their rights include equality of wages and opportunity.”
In addition to the Charter, the strategic impact of the coordinated actions of the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia is hard to exaggerate. President Donald Trump and his advisors clearly understand that, which is why the Trump Administration has stood in the way of shortsighted calls to block arms sales to the Saudis and their allies. Iran, which has moved aggressively to exploit the opening provided it by the ill-advised actions of the Obama Administration, is now being opposed by what increasingly looks like a strategic alliance of like-minded partners.
It is often said in the Middle East that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Viewing the alliance now taking form, perhaps we are seeing just how true that adage is as Riyadh, Tel Aviv, and Washington align to oppose Tehran — and maybe, just maybe, to save the Middle East.
Charles “Sam” Faddis is a retired CIA operations officer with decades of experience undercover abroad. He took the first CIA team into Iraq in advance of the 2003 invasion and retired in 2008 as head of the CIA counterterrorism unit tracking weapons of mass destruction. He is also a former U.S. Army officer and trial attorney. Faddis is currently a senior partner with Artemis, LLC and the senior editor for AND Magazine. He’s also the author of “Beyond Repair: The Decline and Fall of the CIA” and (with Mike Tucker) “Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War Inside Iraq.”
This article was first published @thehill.com on 8/23/19