Saudis May Intercept Israeli Aircraft in Iran Attack
by ABRAHAM RABINOVICH
August 9, 2012
JERUSALEM-Saudi Arabia has informed U.S. officials that it will intercept any Israeli aircraft attempting to reach Iran through Saudi airspace, Tel Aviv daily Yediot Ahronot reported yesterday.
The information was relayed to Israel, the paper said. In 1981, Israeli warplanes passed through Saudi airspace to destroy the nuclear reactor being built by Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. The eight attack planes were provided cover by Israeli fighter jets.
Current defense minister and former prime minister Ehud Barak said he had received no such information from American officials. "Saudi Arabia is a sovereign country and makes its own decisions," he told Israel Radio. "But the matter is too important to be decided by reports like this."
Two years ago, the Times of London quoted a U.S. defense source in the Persian Gulf area as saying that Saudi leadership had decided "to look the other way" if Israeli planes passed through its airspace on the way to Iran. "They've already conducted tests to make sure their own jets aren't scrambled and missile defenses aren't activated so that no one gets shot down," the official was reported as saying. The paper also quoted a Saudi source as saying, "We will let them [the Israelis] through and see nothing."
Saudi officials at the time denied the report. "It is illogical to allow the Israeli occupying force, with whom Saudi Arabia has no relations whatsoever, to use its airspace," said Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, the Saudi envoy to the U.K. There have been periodic reports over the years of Israeli security officials making secret visits to Riyadh to confer with counterparts.
The timing of the current report is likely connected to recent hints from Jerusalem, and concern in Washington, that Israel might be planning a strike at Iran's nuclear facilities in the near future. According to a report last week in the Israeli media, Washington has told Israel that the U.S. itself will strike at Iran if it does not halt its nuclear program-but only in another year and a half. Some Israeli officials suggested that the Americans may have even encouraged the Saudis to issue their current warning in order to make a unilateral Israeli air strike more difficult.
If Israel does plan to strike Iran, it has other options. The northern route would take Israeli fighters through Syrian and Turkish airspace-but, given current tensions with Turkey, the Israelis would probably prefer to avoid it. The more likely, and shortest, route would be through Jordanian and Iraqi airspace. Jordan does not have the air defenses to challenge an Israeli overflight, and Iraq's air defenses are not yet in place. There is, however, political danger if this route is chosen since it could lead to a popular uprising against the regime in Jordan.