So they probably suspect we're spying on them, but they just don't like it to be publicized. And so there's going to be a lot of diplomatic cleanup on this one. And this is going to override other priorities. It's going to take a lot of the oxygen out of whatever other diplomatic priorities we might have with Egypt or with Turkey. This is going to be the issue.
It's going to be very difficult for Secretary Blinken. And I'm quite sure the intelligence community will be reporting on just how our foreign allies are seeing this. And then again, when it comes to our sources, grave concern on their part.
Can you protect me or not? Find out the UAE is a little duplicitous, kind of siding with Russia. We find out about Egypt on the sly, trying to sell Russia arms. With us right now is Dennis Ross, a William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He knows as much about the Middle East and beyond as anybody. Dennis, welcome back.
Good to be with you. Dennis, how damaging is this to our allies, put in perspective with the other major leaks? Well, look, it obviously is damaging. And I'm glad you asked me it that way, because I was in the Obama administration when we had WikiLeaks. And I can tell you that was a more dramatic and more serious set of leaks than this, because it basically was compiling all the private cables that had come in and basically conversations that were being exposed. And I know it took us several months to overcome this.
It clearly was a preoccupation. I spent a fair amount of my time meeting with a number of our partners overseas, explaining what had happened, what we're going to do about it, that it wasn't going to change our basic policy. We would safeguard secrets and so forth. The reality is we're going to pay a price for it. It is not something we can't overcome.
We will be able to overcome it, but it's going to be a distraction and it will be used against us by those who are competing with us. You said we're going to prove to be unreliable, China and Russia. And what about this? Israel's Mossad possibly helping support the protesters against the sitting government, Benjamin Netanyahu? What about that?
All right. I just got back from Israel and I was there. I actually had discussions with all sorts of people, as you might imagine. This was one of the things that really reflects a lack of understanding on the part of those who are providing these reports.
I can almost predict exactly what happened here. There were at the time all sorts of news reports that Mossad was somehow involved in the demonstrations. They were not. What was happening is you had former heads of the Mossad, like Tamir Pardo, who was speaking to the demonstrators. You had 18 former national security advisors in Israel signing a letter to the prime minister urging a pause, a suspension of the legislative process and a dialogue. And somehow these kind of public issues then got incorporated into a report that was under a classified heading. Just one thing to understand, Brian. And a lot of these reports are put into kind of a digest.
And what happens is you can have a classified heading, but then you can have unclassified paragraphs within the same document. My best guess is what happened is some analysts probably put this, wrote about what was happening in the public domain and it got misinterpreted or over interpreted. There's no way Mossad was playing a role in these demonstrations. The demonstrations basically embody almost every segment of Israeli society. And so are there people who work for Mossad who in the demonstrations? Yes, but not at a political level.
All right. So that was one thing. What about the UAE and their allegiance to us? They've always been double dealing, right? Look, they are an interesting, they are very important partner in the United States for sure. We have significant military assets and bases there, but the more they have become concerned about our reliability, the more they have hedged their bets. So, you know, that they have somewhat of a relationship with the Russians. I wouldn't exaggerate it because they see the Russians for what they are. What Russia has done in Ukraine has revealed more than anything else that it has a hollow military.
They're not an impressive military force. The idea that you have to head your bets because Russia can somehow help you or can be a threat to if you don't, I don't think that's there. But I do think we're seeing a larger reality. We are seeing countries in the Middle East right now decide, you know what, there are a number of powers internationally.
Let's have a decent relationship with each of them. So you tweeted something out, too, which I think was really important. And I pointed it out.
And the fact that you did has much more credence. U.S. forces, you tweet out, have been targeted by Iran's proxy forces in Syria again. In response to seventy nine such attacks in the last two years, we responded carefully three times. Understandably, we don't want escalation. The problem is our actions suggest we fear it.
To deter this, Iran must fear it. So you're not, you know, you're not Mr. You're not a warmonger. You're just the opposite. You do your best work with diplomacy. And you're saying you can't work diplomacy unless we start showing some muscle.
I couldn't put it better, Brian. Look, if you want diplomacy to work, it has to have a coercive element. If we want to affect the Iranians, first, we want to stop the march of their nuclear program.
And by the way, if we don't, we're going to end up with a war there because Israelis will feel they have no choice but to strike it. So if you want to prevent a war, you've got to convince the Iranians they have to stop doing what they're doing. If they're attacking through their proxies, us, they have to realize that that's very risky for them. When we react in a very limited way, in a very limited number, in a very contained way, the message we send to them is we're so concerned about escalation that they don't have to worry. We want them to be concerned. We're going to hit them hard and they should be fearing the escalation. We want to deter them.
You have to do that. If we want to affect them so that they decide diplomacy is in their interest, they have to see what they lose if they don't pursue a diplomatic path. Were you as shocked as most people that Saudi Arabia and Iran were willing to talk to each other, brokered by China?
And what does it actually mean? No, I was not. And the reason I was not is I have known for the last two years and it hasn't been a secret, but I've known for the last two years, the Saudis and Iranians have been talking to other. I've known the Saudis who were in those, those talks. They were very clear with me for two years.
They said the same thing, never buried it. They said, we have made it clear that they want to resume relations. They want to reopen embassies. We've said to them, they control the Houthis. They helped to bring that war to an end.
We'll reestablish relations. After two years, the Iranians with the Chinese agreed to do that. Now, does it change the way the Saudis look at the Iranians? No. Do they think that Iran is fundamentally changing their, fundamentally changing that their strategic purpose?
No. They continue to look at the Iranians as being a threat, but maybe they're buying a year or two of peace from the Houthis and, and they don't trust the United States right now to be able to deter threats from Iran against them. So if you can buy a year or two of peace, you do that. I was not surprised. So the way the Saudis are kind of sticking it to us is stunning to me. I know President Obama ran as saying they're a pariah nation, right?
He ran on that. He becomes president and he decides to cut our output on fossil fuels. And then he tells them, critical of them for cutting their output, goes to visit and looked humiliating with a fist bump.
And he came out with nothing tangible and they're cutting production again. So from the Saudi perspective, they're getting used to dealing with China. They have no problem, seemingly doesn't have much of a problem for the short term with Iran and they don't really have any use for America. To me, this seems correctable.
Well, it is correctable, but I also want to put it in perspective. The day after they did the deal brokered by the Chinese, they also went ahead and concluded a thirty six point seven billion dollar deal with Boeing. And this was their way of saying, OK, we did this, but you still have a reason to have an important stake in us. They also then, two days after that, they released a joint Saudi American citizen, joint citizen who they had put in jail because of critical tweets of the Saudis.
And this was something we'd been raising with them for months and all of a sudden they release. So it's kind of again, when I say hedge bets, it means many of the countries in the region right now decide, OK, we'll build relations with the Chinese, but we'll also maintain relations with the US. They don't trust China to come in and rescue them if they get in trouble. They still believe fundamentally they need the United States, but they're also signaling, look, don't expect us to do favors for you any longer unless you're going to be responsive to us as well. So, yeah, I just think, Dennis, have to talk to you and people like you and talking with players, all this stuff. I mean, the Abraham Accords are the most astounding thing to happen, especially for guys that study and live it and know the players.
They just started falling into place. Who would ever think these countries would recognize Israel's right and understand they're not a threat to them and reestablish relations and to get to that point. And because it was a Republican president, Donald Trump, that was behind it and to drop the ball there from people that just want peace in the Middle East, like yourself.
Do you find that frustrating? Well, yeah, I think what the Abraham Accords represented was how much the region has changed. And what we're seeing right now is many of those Abraham Accord countries are also taking a step back. They're not going to break their relations with Israel, but they're more hesitant now, partly because the environment is more threatening. So they're going to be hesitant, partly because they have an Israeli government that has elements in it that are embarrassing them. When Smotrich gets up and says the Palestinians aren't a people, that puts the Emirates in a position when they're asked the question, what do you think about that?
It puts them in a very embarrassing position. They made the deal with the Israelis because they see having a relationship with Israel is important to their interests. It doesn't mean that they are going to dismiss the Palestinian issue or forget it, but it does mean they're not making it a priority. What they don't want to do is be put in a position where they get embarrassed by those kinds of public statements. So, you know, it's very much up, I think, to Prime Minister Netanyahu to do things that will reassure them that these kinds of statements are not going to be made.
They don't represent the policy of the administration and to be sensitive to the concerns they have, not only some of the political needs that he may have. So with the ramifications of us trying to get back into the Iranian deal and them basically giving us the Heisman, while that sends a message to the Saudis too. Because one of the things that spurred the Abraham Accords was the fact that we were making a choice. We were saying those are the bad guys. And Saudi Arabia goes, yeah, now you see it.
And we made it clear. But now when you go back into a deal that they were not for and Israel was going to alter, they were going to take action, that nuclear deal, now all of a sudden Saudi Arabia has less of a reason to trust this administration. Don't you think? I think, look, I think the major element here is they don't trust us to basically deter the threats against them. Therefore, they feel the need on their own to make their own adjustments. And they've also gotten out there past the point of feeling that they should simply be responsive to us because we asked them to be. So I think we're in a new reality here.
It's not impossible to correct it. But we have to recognize we have a stake in these countries. We want them to be part of a broader coalition against the Russians and the Chinese. For that to be the case, we're also going to have to take into account their needs and interests as well and to be and to recreate an image of reliability. And one thing we could do is say, hey, we're going to purchase some extra oil because we've depleted our strategic oil reserve and we're going to want it right away. I mean, would that also affect the price and show a reciprocal action? It would be a smart thing to do. It's in our interest to do it.
It would be a smart thing to do. Dennis Ross, always great to talk to you. Best selling author, Middle East expert, William Davidson, distinguished fellow. Thanks so much, Dennis. Always a pleasure. Thank you, Brian.
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