Given the divisive political climate up on Capitol Hill right now, one might think the greatest liability to the Obama administration for its positive reaction to Iran’s diplomatic overtures would be Republicans who prefer sanctions and war over détente. But one would be wrong. The real pressure to rebuff Iran’s extended hand comes from America’s closest allies in the Middle East: Israel and Saudi Arabia.
“Israel and a number of allied Persian Gulf states are voicing concern about the pace of rapprochement,” reports the Wall Street Journal, “arguing that Iran will use the diplomatic cover to advance its nuclear work.”
The article goes on to report that Obama is scheduled to have what is sure to be a fretful meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today at the White House. And administration officials have listened to strong opposition to easing tensions with Iran from the Arab Gulf states.
Note the misleading reason given in the lede that Israel and the Persian Gulf states are concerned about Iran “advanc[ing] its nuclear work.” No, they are not. As the U.S. intelligence community has repeatedly established, Iran is not developing nuclear weapons and, according to the IAEA, none of Iran’s enriched uranium has been diverted to uninspected facilities for possible military use.
If Israel were truly concerned about the possibility of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, it would have responded affirmatively to the successive proposals to impose a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the region, instead of opposing it each and every time. Truthfully, Israel needs Iran as a foreign bogeyman to keep attention away from the Israeli-Palestinian issue. As former CIA Middle East analyst Paul Pillar has written, “the Iran issue” provides a “distraction” from international “attention to the Palestinians’ lack of popular sovereignty.”
And the Persian Gulf states aren’t worried about an Iranian bomb so much as they are concerned that, absent U.S. pressure to keep Iran down, Iran’s geo-political role in the region would expand at the expense of their own.
The Wall Street Journal acknowledges this in its buried lede half-way through the article: “U.S. officials acknowledge that the Persian Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, also are concerned about the U.S. rapprochement with Iran. The Arab states are concerned that Iran could use improved ties with Washington to advance its efforts to dominate the Mideast.”
This is purely realpolitik for the GCC states. The same has been true for Syria, where Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and others have pressured the U.S. towards undermining and even toppling the Assad regime. This was made starkly clear in an email exchange among employees at the intelligence contractor Stratfor, released by WikiLeaks, in which one analyst writes about “the Saudis trying to put a hole in the
Iranian plan to its radical/Shia arc of influence stretching from Iran to Lebanon.”
Riyadh can’t do much in Lebanon and has lost Iraq. The uprising in Syria provides for the Saudis an opportunity to undermine the arc if they can topple the regime in Damascus. This would be a huge blow for the Iranians, which is why they have been trying to support the Syrian regime. For Iran, which is still waiting to finalize its hold over Iraq and thus complete the arc, the loss of Syria would be huge. For a quarter of century the Iranians sought Iraq but couldn’t get it and now when they are almost there they staring into the abyss of loosing Syria and with it Lebanon.
The U.S. was on the brink of war with Syria earlier this month because of these types of pressures. Our supposed allies in the Middle East would like the same fate for Tehran.
Here’s an idea: Let’s stop outsourcing our own “national interests” to nefarious “allied” regimes in the Middle East.