Saudi Arabia, concerned that Israel will carry out one of its "famous surgical military strikes" here sometime in the next two years, is seeking a closer defense alliance with the United States, a high Saudi official said here today.
Saudi Arabia wants the U.S. military cooperation to close what amounts to a "window of vulnerability," the official said, but the principal obstacle continues to be the unresolved Palestinian issue.
The authoritative official, who granted the interview on the condition that his name and position not be disclosed, cited two reasons why Saudi Arabia expects an Israeli military strike here.
As Saudi purchases of sophisticated arms and Saudi-led efforts for closer defense cooperation among Persian Gulf states continue, he said, "I think the Israelis will one day see it in their favor to undertake an operation to undermine the military credibility of Saudi Arabia and show that it is not a power."
The Israelis, he said, "also believe the best way to deal with the Arabs is with military strength."
The Saudi official, who may have wanted to test the water by outlining the possibility of an Israeli invasion for an American audience, indicated that the Saudis are deeply concerned over what the U.S. reaction would be to an Israeli military operation against the kingdom.
If the Reagan administration did not immediately take a strong stand against such an attack, the Saudis, he said, would be obliged to distance themselves from Washington, jeopardizing plans for a strategic U.S.-Saudi alliance and ending the sharing of intelligence information.
While the official did not specify that Saudi Arabia would allow U.S. access to its bases or the advance positioning here of U.S. military supplies, he strongly implied that there would be few limits placed on military cooperation with Washington once a comprehensive Middle East settlement, including resolution of the Palestinian issue, was reached.
While recent reports have indicated that the U.S. and Saudi military have reached verbal "understandings" on the future Saudi purchase of a multibillion-dollar advanced command, communication and control system, this official stressed that the political groundwork for such an integrated system along with a U.S. ability to plug into it was far from being laid.
Everything, he said, "is tied to the peace plan." If that is achieved, he said, "there is no reason not to have the strategic alliance with the United States that is not possible now."
The Reagan administration has sought a strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia based on its view that the Soviet Union constitutes the gravest danger to the gulf region and its oil supplies to the West.
The administration cited the potential for Soviet-inspired military intervention in the gulf as the primary reason for the sale, narrowly approved by Congress last month, of $8.5 billion in U.S. military equipment to Saudi Arabia, including five AWACS radar planes.
While the official did not dispute the long-term Soviet threat to regional stability, he repeatedly said that the Saudis consider Israel "the most immediate military threat" to them and to the gulf. That threat, he said, ultimately serves Soviet aims by fomenting regional strife.
"The potential" for Middle East peace "is there," the official said, "if the United States would support it at the proper time." Saudi Arabia has been encouraged in recent weeks by what it construes as initial U.S. support for the eight-point Middle East peace plan presented last August by Crown Prince Fahd -- and roundly condemned by Israel.
While the Saudis consider the Fahd plan the basis for negotiations, U.S. officials, including President Reagan, have said the United States backs the Camp David accords as the only route to peace.
"The United States has options for dealing with Israel," the Saudi said. "We have options too. We would start seeking other relationships."
The Saudis, he noted, already have held talks with the French and British regarding arms supplies and strategic cooperation "if the United States were to turn us down."
"In order for Saudi Arabia to meet the responsibility it has taken on," he said, referring to the kingdom's growing leadership role in regional defense, "obviously at some stage we will try to reach military parity with Israel either through our own means or through alliances. That is what drives Israelis to see Saudi Arabia as a threat."
With a relatively small army and long borders that are difficult to defend on the ground, the Saudis have sought to turn to advanced military technology and joint defense agreements as a first line of defense.
Saudi Arabia is seeking to form an alliance with the six other conservative Persian Gulf states whose leaders have just held a summit here.
The official said the six were still far from agreeing on a common air defense system. He indicated that unless conditions imposed by Congress banning the sharing of information from the AWACS with other gulf states were lifted, there was little likelihood such a common system would ever work.
Because of the proximity of the gulf states to each other, he said, there is not enough time to determine where potential enemy planes are headed and to get U.S. approval to pass on the information in time.