In a rare public meeting on Thursday at the Washington office of the Council on Foreign Relations, former officials of both Israel and Saudi Arabia talked about secret meetings between the two countries on how to deal with Iran.
Retired Saudi general Anwar Majed Eshki and former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold publicly announced that since the beginning of 2014, representatives from Israel and Saudi Arabia have had five secret bilateral meetings to discuss Iran in India, Italy, and the Czech Republic.
“We’re both allies of the United States,” Mr. Gold told The New York Times after the presentation. “I hope this is the beginning of more discussion about our common strategic problems.”
Israel and Saudi Arabia have no diplomatic relations. The Saudi government does not recognize the state of Israel and their disputes over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remain unsolved.
But on Thursday, the two countries discussed how they are both focusing on the Islamic Republic.
For a long time Israel was the only country in the region constantly expressing concern over Iran, mainly about its nuclear program. But since the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2010, Saudi Arabia has started to publicly share concern with Israel.
Both countries have different reasons for wanting to thwart Iran.
Israel sees Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to its existence. It believes that Iran is building an atomic bomb.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is unhappy with Iranian expansionism in the Middle East. Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran are in constant competition for influence in the region, via proxy conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and most recently Yemen.
Israel and Saudi Arabia see Tehran’s nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 group (China, Russia, France, Britain, and the United States plus Germany) as a sign of a more powerful Iran.
The Associated Press reported on Thursday that an opinion poll, conducted in Saudi Arabia by the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, an Israeli college, found that 53 percent of Saudis named Iran as their main adversary and only 18 percent picked Israel. A quarter of the respondents also said Israel and Saudi Arabia should join forces to fight Iran.
Thursday's event coincided with the resumption of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 group in Vienna. Both sides are seeking to reach a deal by June 30.