Background of the Saudi-Israeli Alliance
The history of Saudi-Israeli relations is not recent. There is now much attention paid to the close relationship (still not fully officially declared or publicly celebrated by the House of Saud) between the Israeli state and the state that derives its legitimacy (according to its rulers) from its ostensible protection of the Muslim holy sites. That the House of Saud and the Israeli state should be this close on the political front should not be surprising at all. In fact, Israel has always enjoyed the closest relationships with right-wing dictators around the world: from apartheid South Africa to the Shah of Iran, to Mobuto in Zaire, to the various right-wing dictatorships in Latin America, which Israel provided with security and military expertise and assistance to kill their leftist dissidents. Similarly, one should be surprised if the House of Saud and the Jewish state were not close.
From the very beginning of the Zionist movement, the Saudi royal family (in the person of the founder to his sons-successors) took a practically indifferent, if not outright sympathetic, look at the project of the Jewish state. King Abdul-Aziz was after all a mere puppet of the British colonial powers, and he did not lose time to prove his credentials (as an obedient puppet) to his masters. Once oil revenues started rolling in (much to the coffers of the American and British oil companies), the Saudi king used his financial wherewithal to influence Arab politics in a manner that suited the interests of his Western sponsors. In the Palestinian revolt of 1936-1939, the king was one of the Arab leaders who exerted much pressures on Hajj Amin Husayni to end the revolt and to allow the British government to prove its good will. The truce that ended the first phase of the revolt in 1937 was crucial in allowing the Zionists and the British to gain momentum and to put an end to Palestinian aspirations by instigating intra-Palestinian feuds: the revolt quickly degenerated into a mini-Palestinian civil war. The role of the Hashemites and of the Nashshashibi family (both of whom were on the payroll of the Zionists) was crucial in those schemes.
And then there is the suspicious and hitherto unrevealed role of St. John Philby, the adviser of King Abdul-Aziz who had extensive dealings with Zionist leaders. His biographer talked about a plan to bribe the Saudi king on behalf of the Zionists. Not much is known about the plan, and whether negotiations conducted to that effect by Philby had the approval or the authorization of the Saudi king.
The Saudi king did not spend much time worrying about the plight of the Palestinians. He was more interested in cementing his relations, first with the British and then with the American government, which he did with the FDR administration, thus establishing one of the longest “strategic” relationship between the US and a foreign country (an extreme dictatorship at that, but that has never been an anomaly for US foreign policy).
A few years after Israel was founded (and not with any role for the Saudi royal family and the token support that all pro-British Arab potentates provided to the Palestinian cause), Gamal Abdel-Nasser emerged as the pan-Arab leader and rival to the House of Saud. The Arab Cold War began, and the House of Saud were from the very beginning in the same camp with Israel and Western powers. It will be a long time before Western powers (who are obsessed with the protection of Gulf dictatorships) release the relevant documents relating to the role of House of Saud in Western Middle East plots and conspiracies.
The eruption of the Yemeni civil war only made the coordination between Israel and Saudi Arabia more plausible and imperative. Again, we don't have much by way of the declassified archives in Western (or Israeli) capitals, but there is a sense (and some evidence) that Israel supplied the Yemeni monarchist rebels. (Israel always takes the side of the monarchies against republican, progressive dissidents, and that has not changed). In the following years, Israel and Saudi Arabia were on the side of Jordanian and Moroccan rulers against their people (and against the Palestinians in the case of Jordan). And both were fiercely opposed to the first Arab Marxist republic in South Yemen.
Yet, the relationship between the two governments was propelled to a much higher level after Sept. 11. The Saudi royal family came under pressure from the public, media, and Congress for their role in funding fanatical movements around the world (as if the US was not a partner in that endeavor – at least until the 1990s). The Saudi royal family made the decision to elevate their covert and semi-overt relationship with Israel in order to win back American congressional approval. The plot worked: The Saudi King vomited his peace plan, and Thomas Friedman and congressional Zionists were impressed.
But the level of Israeli-Saudi coordination increased yet again after the eruption of Arab uprisings: Saudi and Israeli foreign policy have mirrored one another on Egypt and Iran. The two may not have seen eye-to-eye on Syria, but they seem to have put their trust in the Free Syrian Army. Nevertheless, this unusual closeness between the two countries can’t come without a heavy price to be paid now or later by the Saudi royal family.
The relationship between Israel and the Saudi government was also facilitated by the US. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia were on the side of the US not only against communists and leftists around the world but also against liberation movements from Latin America to Vietnam. We don't know, of course, the extent to which Israel and Saudi Arabia coordinated directly, but it would be foolish to assume that the anti-Semitism of King Faysal, for example, prevented him from appeasing Zionists in the US and Israel. His relationship with Henry Kissinger are quite telling. The Saudi royal family and the Wahhabi clerics never saw a contradiction between their anti-Semitism and their coordination with the Israeli state, especially when the coordination bolstered the Saudi place in US foreign policy plans.
When Anwar Sadat visited Israel, a new rupture hit Arab politics. While Sadat established an alliance with Israel (an alliance to be continued and expanded under Hosni Mubarak), with US blessing and sponsorship, it is wrongly assumed that the whole Arab world was united against him. We know now that King Husayn and King Fahd maintained a close relationship with Sadat, and may have encouraged him in his liquidationist plans. And after Sadat's assassination, it was the Saudi government that helped to reintegrate the Egyptian regime into the "Arab fold" and without any changes to the Camp David Accords and the Egyptian-Israeli treaty.
The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait took the relationship to another level, and the extent to which Saudi Arabia helped in "restraining" Israel, as its reluctant agreement to not respond to Saddam Hussein's missiles is called. But it was Sept. 11 that took the relationship between the two regimes to a much higher level altogether.