Friday, July 16, 2010

Persian Isolation: setting up for a war against IRAN?

By Alexander Smoltczyk and Bernhard Zand FROM THE MAGAZINE DER SPIEGEL (English Edition)

Israel and the Arab states near the Persian Gulf recognize a common threat: the regime in Tehran. A regional diplomat has not even ruled out support by the Arab states for a military strike to end Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"The Jews and Arabs have been fighting for one hundred years. The Arabs and the Persians have been going at (it) for a thousand,"

Almost all Arab neighbors have a hostile relationship with the Islamic Republic. Saudi Arabia suspects Iran of stirring up the Shiite minority in its eastern provinces. The Arab emirates accuse Iran of occupying three islands in the Persian Gulf. Egypt has not had regular diplomatic relations with Iran since a street in Tehran was named after the murderer of former Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat.

Jordanian King Abdullah II warns against the establishment of a "Shiite crescent" between Iran and Lebanon. And Kuwait, fearing the Iranians, installed the Patriot air defense missile system in the spring.

Closely Aligned

Arab governments are concerned about a strong Iran, its nuclear program and the inflammatory speeches of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They share these concerns with another government in the Middle East -- Israel's.

Never have the strategic interests of the Jewish and Arab states been so closely aligned as they are today. While European and American security experts consistently characterize a military strike against Iran as "a last option," notable Arabs have long shared the views of Israel's ultra-nationalist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman. If no one else takes it upon himself to bomb Iran, Saudi cleric Mohsen al-Awaji told SPIEGEL, Israel will have to do it. "Israel's agenda has its limits," he said, noting that it is mainly concerned with securing its national existence. "But Iran's agenda is global."

But Arab countries are pursuing a delicate seesaw policy. The UAE cannot afford to openly offend Iran, which explains why Ambassador Otaiba was promptly ordered to return home on Wednesday.

This caution only conceals the deep divide between the Arabs and the Persians. Despite their public expressions of outrage over Israeli behavior, such as the blockade of the Gaza Strip, Arab countries in the region continue to pursue their pragmatic course. On June 12, The Times in London wrote that Saudi Arabia had recently "conducted tests to stand down its air defenses to enable Israeli jets to make a bombing raid on Iran's nuclear facilities" -- in the event of an attack on the nuclear power plant in Bushehr. In March, Western intelligence agencies reported that there were signs of secret negotiations between Jerusalem and Riyadh to discuss the possibility.

"We are aligned (with the United States) on every policy issue there is in the Middle East," Ambassador Otaiba said in Aspen.

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