TEL AVIV – In a historic first, a Saudi newspaper published an interview with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot on Thursday in which he said Israel is willing to share intelligence with the Gulf kingdom to combat Iran, “the largest threat to the region.”
No chief of staff of the Israeli military has ever been interviewed by Saudi Arabia, which has no diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
Eisenkot told the London-based Saudi news site Elaph that Jerusalem and Riyadh are in complete agreement about the threat posed by Tehran. He said, however, that Israel has no interest in engaging in a war with Iranian proxy terror group Hezbollah despite recent escalations.
“With President Donald Trump there is an opportunity for a new international coalition in the region. There should be a major regional plan to stop the Iranian threat,” said Eisenkot.
“We are ready to exchange experiences with moderate Arab countries and to exchange intelligence to confront Iran,” he added. “There are many mutual interests.”
Eisenkot outlined Iran’s ambitions, saying, “The Iranian plan is to control the Middle East by means of two Shiite crescents. The first from Iran through Iraq to Syria and Lebanon, and the second from Bahrain through to Yemen until the Red Sea.”
“This is what must be prevented in the region,” he said.
“In this matter there is complete agreement between us and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has never been our enemy. It has not fought us nor have we fought it,” he added.
He continued: “When I was at a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington and heard what the Saudi representative had to say, I found it identical to what I think about Iran and the need to confront it and to confront its expansion in the region.”
He said the situation in Lebanon is “complex” and made more so by former prime minister Saad Hariri’s sudden resignation.
“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 [neighborhood of Beirut, a Shi’ite stronghold]. That is something we haven’t seen in the past.”
Hezbollah, Eisenkot said, “is beginning to feel financial pressure and starting to get into big material problems.”
In the wake of allegations in the Arab world that Israel is planning to strike Hezbollah, Eisenkot said, “We have no intention of attacking Hezbollah in Lebanon and bring about a war.” Nevertheless, “we will not accept a strategic threat.”
Eisenkot reiterated Israel’s demand that Syria be rid of any Iranian military presence, including Hezbollah.
He also reemphasized Israel’s policy not to get involved with the civil war in Syria.
“We have a clear policy. We will not intervene in the fighting in Syria, unless we see an attempt to harm our Druze brothers. We intervened in Khader, we prepared tanks on [Mount] Hermon and warned the Al-Nusra Front that we will attack them if they enter Khader. This put an end to the crisis.”
Eisenkot rejected the claim that Israel provides aid to Syrian jihadist group Al-Nusra as totally false: “Al-Nusra and its ilk are our enemies, like the Islamic State. We have attacked them more than once. We aid the villagers on the Golan medically and we help our Druze brothers. We help only in humanitarian ways.”
He warned that while the Islamic State “has been severely beaten and the elimination of the organization will come soon,” its ideology can return “in the guise of other names and groups in Syria and the region.”
He said Russia was extremely adept at playing all sides of the field.
“The United States is trying to strengthen and support the moderate Sunni axis in the region without bringing in [American] troops or fighting on the ground. At the same time, there is a Russian policy that sees only the Russian interests in Syria,” said Eisenkot. “The Russians know how to get along very well with all the sides. They forged an alliance with Assad, Iran and Hezbollah on one side (and) with the Americans in the war against the Islamic State.”