Saudi Arabia is working directly with Israel and other Sunni Arab nations to fight terror, US CIA Director Mike Pompeo said.
“We’ve seen them work with the Israelis to push back against terrorism throughout the Middle East, to the extent we can continue to develop those relationships and work alongside them – the Gulf states and broader Middle East will likely be more secure,” said Pompeo at the Reagan National Defense Forum in California on Saturday.
Former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta then called on the moderate Sunni Arab states to form a coalition with Israel, the US and Turkey and even to run a joint military operations center.
“It is incredibly important that in the Middle East, where we have failed states, where you have ISIS, where you have Iran, that we have got to develop a stronger coalition of countries that are willing to work together to confront these challenges,” he said.
He continued, “The US can’t do it on our own, obviously the Saudis can’t do it on their own, these other countries can’t do it on their own. But together in some kind of coalition of countries – of Arab countries working with the US, working with Israel, working with Turkey, to build a strong coalition that can operate – frankly I think with a joint military headquarters that can… target the terrorists in that region, that can basically work together to try to provide stability where is necessary in these countries,” he said.
Last month, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz publicly confirmed that Israel had covert contacts with Saudi Arabia amid common concerns over Iran, a first disclosure by a senior official from either country of long-rumored secret dealings.
Just prior to that, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot told a Saudi newspaper that Israel is “ready to exchange experiences with Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab countries and exchange intelligence information to confront Iran.”
But the statements by the current and former CIA directors were important as they seconded what Israeli officials have started to say out loud, even as Saudi officials have publicly denied that there will be increased cooperation without progress on the Palestinian negotiations track.
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir has told Egypt’s CBC television that “There are no relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. There is the Arab peace initiative, which shows the road map to reach peace and establish normal [ties] between Israel and Arab states.”
Saudi Arabia did recently hold an emergency meeting with other Sunni Arab allies in Cairo, publicly declaring Iran and Hezbollah as threats in more confrontational language than ever in the past.
Also at the forum, Pompeo said he sent a letter to Iranian Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iranian leaders expressing concern regarding Iran’s increasingly threatening behavior in Iraq.
He explained that he had sent the letter to the senior Iranian military commander in response to indications that forces under his control might attack US forces in Iraq.
The spy chief said that the letter told Soleimani that Iran would be held responsible for any such attacks and “We wanted to make sure he and the leadership in Iran understood that in a way that was crystal clear.”
He said that Soleimani refused to open the letter.
Asked what he would tell US President Donald Trump about whether Iran is complying with the nuclear deal with the West, he said, “I would tell him that the intelligence that we have seen to date indicates that they are in substantial compliance with the nuclear provisions of that agreement.”
At the same time, Pompeo emphasized Iran’s destabilizing influence in Iraq and Syria and its efforts to gain hegemony in the region.