Saudi Arabia says it would ‘intercept Israeli planes en route to Iran’

Message reportedly received via Washington seen as warning against unilateral strike

Two Israeli F-15I 'Ra'am' fighter jets during maneuvers (CC BY-TSgt Kevin J. Gruenwald/USA/Wikimedia)
Two Israeli F-15I 'Ra'am' fighter jets during maneuvers (CC BY-TSgt Kevin J. Gruenwald/USA/Wikimedia)

Saudi Arabia will not permit Israeli aircraft to cross its territory on the way to strike Iran, Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Thursday. The message was passed to Jerusalem via Obama administration officials during recent talks in Israel, it claimed.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said later Thursday he had received no such message.

Senior Israeli officials reportedly see the move as a warning message from the US not to launch a unilateral strike, according to the paper.

Saudi Arabia is supplied with US military equipment and aircraft, and some estimate that if an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities were carried out in cooperation with the US, Saudi Arabia would permit an overflight.

But if Israel acts alone, Yedioth claimed, Riyadh told the US it would intercept any Israeli plane that tried to cross its territory on the way to Iran.

If Israel were to strike Iran, the logistical obstacles are formidable, as The New York Times reported in February. It is estimated that Israel would have to use at least 100 planes to strike Iran’s four main nuclear sites, and travel over 1,000 miles over hostile territory to reach them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly prefers the US to lead, or at least help in any possible strike on Iran.

The closing of Saudi Arabian airspace would remove from Israel’s options one potential route to get to Iran, but others exist: north over Turkey, or straight east through Jordan and Iraq. However it is unclear whether those countries would allow Israel to use its airspace as well.

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, in Israel last week, said that “all options” were on the table for dealing with a potential Iranian nuclear weapon, including the military option.

“If they continue and if they proceed with a nuclear weapon,” he said, “we have options that we are prepared to implement to ensure that that does not happen.”

The US, though, has expended much effort trying to hold Israel back from a unilateral strike, saying there is still time for diplomacy and sanctions to thwart Tehran’s nuclear plans.

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