Israel’s army chief gave an interview to a Saudi news outlet. That’s never happened before.


Gadi Eisenkot, the Israeli army’s chief of staff, speaking at a ceremony for the incoming Technology and Logistics Directorate head, July 13, 2016. (Sraya Diamant/IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Israeli army’s chief of staff gave the first interview by someone in his post to a Saudi news outlet.

Gadi Eisenkot told the Elaph news website Thursday that Israel is ready to share intelligence with Saudi Arabia as part of a joint effort to curb Iranian influence in the region. The interview was his first with an Arabic media outlet.

Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic ties. Elaph is Saudi owned but based in London.

In the interview, Eisenkot called Iran “the biggest threat to the region” and said Saudi Arabia was in “complete agreement.” He accused Iran of trying to destabilize the Middle East by building weapons factories and supplying advanced weapons to militant and terrorist groups.

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“Iran seeks to take control of the Middle East, creating a Shiite crescent from Lebanon to Iran and then from the [Persian] Gulf to the Red Sea,” he said. “We must prevent this from happening.”

Eisenkot made clear that Israel has no interest in playing into what he said were attempts by Iran to push the Jewish state toward war with its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah.

“We see Iranian attempts at bringing about an escalation, but I don’t see a high chance for this at the moment,” he said.

However, Eisenkot warned that local flare-ups could “lead to a broad strategic conflict.”

Eisenkot said he welcomed President Donald Trump’s stated commitment to confronting Iran over its ballistic missile program and deepening presence in Syria and Iraq. He characterized it as a chance to form a regional alliance against Iran, and said Israel would be willing to share intelligence as part of the effort.

“With President Trump. there is an opportunity to build a new international coalition in the region. We need to carry out a large and inclusive strategic plan to stop the Iranian danger,” he said. “We are willing to exchange information with moderate Arab countries, including intelligence information, in order to deal with Iran.”

Asked whether Israel has shared “information” with the Saudis recently, Eisenkot responded, “We are prepared to share information if it is necessary. There are many mutual interests.”

The Elaph news site has interviewed a number of senior Israeli defense officials in the past, including the coordinator of government activities in the territories and the IDF spokesperson.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has boasted about growing cooperation between Israel and Arab nations it does not have diplomatic relations with, especially regarding Iran.

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