Strange Bedfellows

Arab world, wary of rise of radical Islam, slow to condemn Israel over Gaza War
Smoke and sand are seen following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike in Gaza August 25

Smoke and sand are seen following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike in Gaza August 25 / AP

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JERUSALEM—When Israel lifts its head and looks about after its seven-week confrontation with Hamas, it will find that it has some unexpected friends.

“Hamas is responsible for the slaughter in the Gaza Strip,” wrote Turki al Faisal, the former head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence services, in Asharq Al-Awsat. He cited the organization’s “haughtiness” in firing rockets at Israel “which contribute nothing to the Palestinian interest.”

Iraqi journalist Adnan Hussein last week condemned Hamas’ public execution of more than 20 Gaza residents on charges of spying for Israel. He termed the street executions as “barbaric acts that resemble the brutality of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.” He wrote in the daily Al-Mada that Hamas and other jihadi groups in Gaza “awaken the wild Israeli beast” by provoking it with acts such as the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens last month, which sparked the Gaza War.

Carlo Strenger noted in Ha’aretz that most Arab governments have refused to comment publicly on this war: “From Morocco through Egypt to Saudi Arabia, almost no Arab state was willing to support Hamas in this conflict.”

Although Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah condemned the war as “a collective massacre” and a crime against humanity, he did not directly condemn Israel.

An intellectual from a prominent Saudi family, Mohammed al Sheikh, last week wrote an op-ed headlined “Peace with Israel is the solution” in Al Arabiya. The Palestinians will never gain a state through war, only through peace, he said.

Strenger said this conciliatory attitude toward Israel stems mainly from the threat felt by Arab regimes from the rise of radical Islam in the region. “The security of the whole region depends on pooling intelligence and armies to fight the forces that are threatening to push the Middle East into chaos,” he wrote.

Dr. Yaron Friedman, who writes about Arab affairs for the daily Israel Today, wrote that the Sunni nations, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, feel the need to pool their strength in the face not only of radical Islam but of aggressive Shiite states led by Iran.

“The growing power of the Shiite axis is threatening the kingdom and its Sunni allies. After 1,300 years of Muslim history in which the Sunnis controlled the Shiites, this balance is about to change,” Feldman wrote. Israel is seen as a potential ally, particularly against Iran and its nuclear ambitions.

“Saudi Arabia is interested in ending the ‘small conflict’ between Israel and the Palestinians in order to have Israel on its side in the ‘big conflict’ against the Shiite world and the growing terror threat,” wrote Friedman.