Friday, 7 May 2010

Israel Matzav: 'Our friends the Saudis': Not worried about Iran, unwilling to help in the 'peace process'

Our friends the Saudis': Not worried about Iran, unwilling to help in the 'peace process'

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If this expert (see his qualifications in the article) is correct, then 'our friends the Saudis' have no fear of the military power of a nuclear Iran, and no interest in helping to convince Israel that the Arab states want peace (which they don't - the Arab states will never willingly accept a Jewish state in their midst).

The Saudis see Iranian power in more political than military terms. It is Iranian political influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Palestine that worries them, not the prospect of the use of Iranian military force. They see the Iranian threat to the Gulf states as centered in Iran's power to mobilize support among Shi'a sympathizers in those states, not in the prospect of an Iranian missile attack or amphibious landing on the Arab shore of the Gulf. (The revelation by the Kuwaiti newpaper al-Qabas a few days ago of the arrest in Kuwait of an alleged Iranian ‘terrorist' cell is the kind of evidence Saudis point to of the nature of the Iranian threat.) They do not worry that much about a nuclear Iran as a military threat, but rather worry that nuclear acquisition will make Tehran more ambitious in terms of pushing for political influence in the region and that nuclear weapons will make Iran seem a more attractive and powerful ally for sub-state groups throughout the Arab world.

I think that the Saudi perspective on Iranian regional power is much more accurate than ours. It is not Iranian military power that gives Iran regional influence but rather Iran's political links to powerful actors in states where the central government is weak. Those links are based on a mixture of shared ideology, sectarian affiliation, common antipathy to the U.S. and Israel, and short-term self-interests, in different degrees in different cases. But none of those relations are based on Iranian military power. I doubt that nuclear weapons will make that much difference, one way or another, in Iran's regional influence, because nuclear weapons will not change the nature of Iran's relations with its sub-state allies in the Arab world.

The nascent Saudi debate on this question has not generated much in the way of answers to how to deal with Iranian power. There is something of a consensus that Riyadh has forfeited the chance to play a greater role in Iraq through passivity, and one can see the beginnings of a more active Saudi policy there now (backing Allawi, receiving an delegation from the Sadrist movement since the election). While King Abdallah has a real personal antipathy toward dealing with Nouri al-Maliki, it is possible that after that even that obstacle will be overcome as the current maneuverings over the creation of a new Iraqi government continue. But American policy-makers should be aware that, while Riyadh shares their perspective that Iran needs to be contained, the Saudis are taking a very different view of the nature of the Iranian challenge than is ascendant in Washington.

So, what does this mean for the American debate on Iran? First, it is not clear just what position the Saudi government would take on an American military attack on Iran. It is likely that Riyadh would want the benefits of such an attack -- setting back the Iranian nuclear program, however briefly -- without taking any public responsibility for the American action. Washington should not count on any Saudi cooperation on such a plan that might become public. And American policy-makers should know that a more active Saudi policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict, if it were influenced by these Saudi "neo-conservatives," might not be completely supportive of American efforts to enlist Arab states in "confidence building measures" toward Israel. Saudi Arabia will judge those kinds of suggestions from a hard-headed "realist" perspective.

I don't buy the part of this analysis that deals with Iran. There's too much evidence to the contrary - that the Saudis do fear a nuclear Iran. And well they should since the Sunni's (Saudi Arabia) and the Shia (Iran) have hated each other for centuries. Not to mention the fact that Iran has ties to al-Qaeda....

Israel Matzav: 'Our friends the Saudis': Not worried about Iran, unwilling to help in the 'peace process'

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