Last Updated: Sat Aug 11, 2012 17:54 pm (KSA) 14:54 pm (GMT)

Israel unlikely to use Saudi airspace in attack on Iran: analysts

A view of Natanz uranium enrichment facility in this March 30, 2005 file photo. Analysts say there is no way Saudi Arabia will allow Israel to use its airspace in an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. (Reuters)
A view of Natanz uranium enrichment facility in this March 30, 2005 file photo. Analysts say there is no way Saudi Arabia will allow Israel to use its airspace in an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. (Reuters)

Despite saber rattling in the media, analysts said on Saturday that it was highly unlikely Israel would cross Saudi air space in a potential attack on Iran.

A recent UPI report that Saudi Arabia warned Israel that it would intercept Israeli fighter jets that crosses its border has created a stir, even though Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak reportedly said that he never got such a message from the Saudis.

So far the Saudis have stayed quiet on issue.

Analysts have since weighed in on the extent of the possibility that the Saudi Arabian Kingdom would allow Israel to use its airspace to strike a fellow Muslim country.

Former Kuwaiti minister of communications and political commentator Sami Abdullatif al-Nisf, told Al Arabiya English that if an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear installations was imminent, there is no way the Israelis would be planting the news in the media. “Looking at their previous history they never gave a warning about attacking Iraq in the early 1980s to destroy their nuclear installments. They never give a warning,” Nisf said.

Furthermore, Nisf said that there is no way Saudi Arabia would allow this to happen since they do not wish to create complications with Iran.

“The Israeli aircrafts can overfly many other areas besides Saudi Arabia. Iran is a huge country; it can be attacked from the north from the south, from many other parts, even from the east. Israel has a good relationship with many other countries which are not far from Iran,” he noted.

Professor of Political Science at King Saud University, Saleh Almani, agreed that the Israelis have no need for Saudi air space when they can use either Turkish or Jordanian.

“When they [Israel] attacked Syria two years ago they used Turkish airspace, Almani noted. “Besides, the Saudis would not allow another country to attack a Muslim country” he added.

According to Amani, the Saudis are hoping diplomatic efforts will be sufficient to convince Iran to freeze its nuclear ambitions “as they did during (former Iranian president) Khatami.”

Chairman of the Kuwait-based Gulf Forum for Peace and Security Fahed al-Shelaimi, said having to use foreign airspace to attack Iran poses a dilemma for Israel. However in the unlikely scenario that the reports hold true and Israel intends to use Saudi airspace, it could be by simply flying to the very edge of the Kingdom.

According to al-Shelaimi, one option for the Israelis could be to fly to the very edge of the Saudi Kingdom and by the time the Saudis will have scrambled jets to reach the area, which mainly consists of desert, the Israelis will be long gone.

“They will at least need minutes to get there” al-Shelaimi said.

Al- Shelaimi explained that the Israelis theoretically could use Saudi airspace without being detected by ensuring the fighter jet is hidden behind a civilian aircraft.

“By the time the Saudis reach there it would just have been a flying foreign object.”

“The easiest solution for the Israelis would be to fly over Iraq, and the Iraqi airspace is controlled by the U.S. of course.” he said.

When asked by Al Arabiya English why Saudi authorities have not issued any statement on this issue, Nisf said the reason is obvious: “whether it is an Israeli aircraft, a Jordanian aircraft, and Egyptian aircraft, whatever, there is no way Saudi Arabia will allow military aircrafts overfly Saudi airspace without their permission.”

Al-Shelaimi however felt that due to the current tense relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran over the conflict in Syria, the Saudi’s feel “embarrassed” to issue any statement.

The UPI report said senior Israeli officials have claimed that the Americans are leveraging the Saudi threat in an attempt to discourage Israel from launching a unilateral offensive on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Sources estimated that Saudi Arabia, which is equipped with American-made fighter jets, would have allowed Israel to cross its airspace if the latter would have coordinated its military operation with Washington.

The New York Times (NYT) has previously claimed that Israel will prefer to use a direct route that passes over Jordan and Iraq.

It is not known whether Jordan would allow Israeli jets to fly through its airspace .According to UPI, foreign commentators have estimated that the Jordanians will turn a blind eye, yet others have said that Amman might consider the act as a breach of its peace agreement with Israel. Two other possible routes are over Turkey and Syria, or a longer route along the Red Sea.

American defense officials and military analysts close to the Pentagon told the New York Times in February that an Israeli attack meant to set back Iran’s nuclear program would be a huge and highly complex operation far different from Israel’s “surgical” strikes on a nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007 and Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981.

“I don’t think you’ll find anyone who’ll say, ‘Here’s how it’s going to be done — handful of planes, over an evening, in and out,’ ” Andrew R. Hoehn, a former Pentagon official who is now director of the Rand Corporation’s Project Air Force, which does extensive research for the United States Air Force, was quoted as saying by the New York Times.

In March, reports said Israel’s military may have negotiated access to strategically placed air bases in Azerbaijan that could be used in an attack on Iran.

The report suggested expanding co-operation between Israel and the Caucasian republic, which shares a border with Iran. Israel and Azerbaijan allegedly secured a $1.6billion arms deal in February, which included the pledged sale of drones and anti-aircraft missile systems to Baku.

However the Azerbaijani government furiously denied the report,

“There will be no actions against Iran ... from the territory of Azerbaijan,” an Azerbaijani defense spokesman told reporters in Baku.

He accused unnamed “international organizations and media structures under their control” of “intentionally increasing tensions” between Iran and Azerbaijan.

Meanwhile Israel so far remains unfazed by the Saudi threat with Barak saying it “will not change Israeli plans.”

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