What was the real cost for not recognizing Israel in 1948 and why didn't the Arab states spend their assets on education, health care and the infrastructures instead of wars? But the hardest question that no Arab national wants to hear is whether Israel is the real enemy of the Arab world and the Arab people.
A quote from an AIPAC press release or a briefing from Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu? Guess again. These questions are posed not by a source we would normally think of as sympathetic to Israel, but in a recent column in the major English-language newspaper in Saudi Arabia, Arab News -- a paper controlled by the son of the Crown Prince. The author is retired Saudi naval Commodore Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.
His premise: that it's not Israel and its American ally responsible for the current plight of the Arab world, but the Arabs themselves -- specifically, their leaders.
... the destruction and the atrocities are not done by an outside enemy. The starvation, the killings and the destruction in these Arab countries are done by the same hands that are supposed to protect and build the unity of these countries and safeguard the people of these countries...
The Arab world wasted hundreds of billions of dollars and lost tens of thousands of innocent lives fighting Israel, which they considered is their sworn enemy, an enemy whose existence they never recognized. The Arab world has many enemies and Israel should have been at the bottom of the list. The real enemies of the Arab world are corruption, lack of good education, lack of good health care, lack of freedom, lack of respect for the human lives and finally, the Arab world had many dictators who used the Arab-Israeli conflict to suppress their own people. These dictators' atrocities against their own people are far worse than all the full-scale Arab-Israeli wars.
Finally, if many of the Arab states are in such disarray, then what happened to the Arabs' sworn enemy (Israel)? Israel now has the most advanced research facilities, top universities and advanced infrastructure. Many Arabs don't know that the life expectancy of the Palestinians living in Israel is far longer than many Arab states and they enjoy far better political and social freedom than many of their Arab brothers. Even the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip enjoy more political and social rights than some places in the Arab World.
In another column, the Saudi Commodore speculated on what would have happened if, rather than attacking the Zionist state, the Arab countries had recognized Israel back in May 14, 1948. The result, he claimed would have been better for all parties concerned, particularly the Arabs:
... the Palestinians would have been able to free themselves from the hollow promises of Arab dictators who kept telling them the refugees would be back in their homes, all Arab lands would be liberated and Israel would be sent to the bottom of the sea. Some Arab leaders used the Palestinians to suppress their own people and stay in power.
Since 1948, if an Arab politician wanted to be a hero, he had an easy way of doing it. He just needed to shout as loud as he could about his intention to destroy Israel, without mobilizing a single soldier (talk is cheap).
The history of the entire region would have been radically changed, according to this column: among other benefits, there would have been no Nasser, no Saddam Hussein, no Muammar al-Gaddafi. Instead...
"Now, the Palestinians are on their own; each Arab country is busy with its own crisis -- from Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, Somalia, Algeria, Lebanon and the Gulf states."
Intrigued, I called the retired Commodore to ask if he'd had any problems publishing such outspoken views in what is essentially a semi-official Saudi publication. None at all, he said.
"This is read by many from the Saudi Royal family. Nobody was upset. If they were, they would have told me not to write my weekly articles any more. But they haven't and I've never been stopped. That doesn't mean that they agree with it. It's an idea that they are interested in having out there."
On the other hand, when you stop to think about it, such apparently pro-Israeli views in the semi-official Saudi media are not at all that surprising. The murky swamp of Middle East politics has nothing to do with the easy slogans and 30-second sound bites of presidential debates.
One of the most curious of alliances in the Middle East have been the clandestine goings-on between the Zionist State of Israel and the Saudi royal family, the guardians of Mecca, among the most conservative of Arab monarchs.
That relationship is based on a venerable political tenet: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Both Israel and the Saudi royals are threatened by the rise of Iran, and the crumbling of the old order in the Arab world, the end of brutal dictators, the explosion of popular political and religious passions.
This is true, even though the Saudis (and Qataris) helped finance the fall of Gaddafi, who they despised, and are backing the rebels in Syria against Assad. They hope to use their money and influence to control the outcomes, to safeguard their own monarchies.
Though Commodore Al-Mulhim decries the brutalities of dictators like Assad, Nasser and Gaddafi, other columns speaks glowingly of the traditional links between the Saudi people and their benevolent royal family.
The continued political turbulence stoked by the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is also a threat to the Saudi royals. And the Commodore's tough-worded critique of the Arabs' refusal to recognize Israel dovetails perfectly well with a peace plan the Saudis first put on the table in 2002. In exchange for the Arab states normalizing relations with Israel , Israel would withdraw to the 1967 borders.
Indeed, over the years, the Israelis have joined forces clandestinely with the Saudis to take on other mutual enemies.
In 1962, for instance, when civil war broke out after the monarch was toppled in Yemen, a coalition of the Mossad, the Saudis and the British SAS took on rebels backed by the armed forces of Egypt's President Nasser.
Again in Beirut in March 8,1985 the Saudis and the Mossad joined in an attempt to assassinate Muhammad Fadlallah, the cleric who founded Hezbollah. According to Bob Woodward, William Casey then director of the CIA claimed that the Saudis helped organize placement of an explosives-laden vehicle, which went off in front of Fadlallah's home. Several buildings collapsed and 80 people were killed, but Fadlallah survived.
On the other hand, Tehran has long been accused of stirring up trouble among Saudi's restless Shiites. And, in retaliation for the recent cyber attacks on their centrifuges, the Iranians reportedly launched their own cyber attack on a Saudi state-owned target: Saudi Aramco, the world's most valuable company. Last August 15th, someone with privileged access to Aramco's computers was able to unleash a virus that wreaked havoc with the company's systems. U.S. intelligence experts point their finger at Tehran.
Indeed, Commodore Abdulateef Al-Mulhim is not the only Saudi military official to have recently written semi-sympathetic pieces about Israel. Earlier this year, a Brigadier General from the royal family, with advanced degrees from Georgetown and Cambridge, wrote a piece suggesting that the Saudis might learn a lesson or two from the way Israel handles domestic unrest and foreign protestors. The column became the subject of an op-ed piece in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: "There is a thread here that is begging to be followed. Israel and Saudi Arabia have a mutual enemy, Iran, and a mutual buttress, the United States. Dialogue between them, perhaps beginning with military people like Naef, will help both countries and promote a diplomatic agreement in the region."