Israeli Chief of Staff interviewed by Saudi newspaper

An interview with the head of the Israel Defence Forces was published yesterday in the privately-owned Saudi newspaper Elaph, the first time an IDF official has spoken to media in Saudi Arabia.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot told the Arabic newspaper that Israel was ready to share “intelligence information” with Saudi Arabia, saying their countries had a common interest in standing up to Iran. Referring to Saudi Arabia, Eisenkot said the country “has never been an enemy we fought or that fought us”.

Increased tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia has fuelled speculation that shared interests may push Saudi Arabia and Israel to work together against what they see as a common Iranian threat.

“I participated in the meeting of Chiefs of Staff in Washington and heard what the Saudi representative said. I found that his views about Iran were completely aligned with mine and the need to deal with it in the region and the need to stop its programme of expansion,” Eisenkot said.

Clarifying Israel’s position on Syria, Eisenkot said: “Our demand is for Hezbollah to leave Syria and for Iran and its militias to retreat from Syria. We have said openly, and also quietly and secretly too, that we will not accept Iranian consolidation in Syria in general, and their concentration west of the Damascus – Sweida Road. We will not allow any Iranian presence, we have warned them against building factories.”

Eisenkot said Israel has no intention of initiating an attack on Hezbollah in Lebanon, but added that Israel “will not accept a strategic threat against Israel”.

He also said US President Donald Trump’s election on a platform that calls for increasing pressure on Iran has provided an opportunity to build a new international coalition in the region based on moderate Sunni states.

The interview was published two weeks after Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri’s resigned during a visit to Saudi Arabia. “Hariri’s move in resigning from Riyadh was surprising, but I see that Hezbollah has begun to feel financial pressure. They have run into serious problems with supplies. We also see a drop in support for Hezbollah and there are also cracks in the public that supports Hezbollah, as well as demonstrations in the Dahiya. That is something we haven’t seen in the past,” Eiskenkot said.