Our “Traditional” Mideast Allies Are Not All Opposed to Iran Deal
Philip Weiss calls out WNYC host Brian Lehrer and others for emphasizing the non-Israeli opposition to the interim Geneva Iran deal:
One of the irritations of coverage of the Iranian deal is the extent to which the American media say reflexively that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States along with Israel oppose the deal. Yesterday on WNYC, for instance, Brian Lehrer urged listeners “not to pigeonhole Israel as the only major opponent of this. It’s also Saudi Arabia, it’s also Turkey… the other Gulf states like Qatar… don’t want Iran strengthened as they see it or even legitimized.”
This is important, because it’s becoming a standard argument against negotiating with Iran, echoed by the neoconservatives and hawks in Congress. We are, so the claim goes, ignoring or “abandoning” our “traditional” allies. The thing is, it’s simply not true. Saudi Arabia has already voiced support for the deal. I’m sure they don’t much like it, and the Sunni-Shia intra-Islamic rivalry weighs heavily on them. But they simply aren’t going for Netanyahu-style petulance. And not just Saudi Arabia. Juan Cole here outlines the extent of the Middle Eastern support of the p5+1 Iran negotiation, recording positive or favorable reactions from the governments or Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Lebanon, and Algeria. Of course Oman hosted secret talks between American diplomats and Tehran’s.
I don’t doubt the diplomacy is making the Saudis uncomfortable, and visitors to the kingdom have long remarked on visceral anti-Iran sentiment there. But they aren’t going to play a spoilers role. One diplomat who knows the country well described the Saudis as “realists” who will “adapt to what happens.” There is widespread Arab suspicion about Iranian intentions in the Gulf, and no desire to fall under Iran’s hegemony. But that’s an American strategic goal too, as can be made clear with words and deeds.
Moreover, for all the Arabs, there is a silver lining in the cloud of possible detente between Iran and the West: the possibility of renewed attention to the other nuclear proliferator in their region, the one which actually has introduced weapons to the region. On Monday, the Saudi Embassy tweeted out
#Saudi welcomes P5+1 nuclear agrmt w/Iran as primary step towards comprehensive solution to Iranian nuclear program & a ME free of all WMD
— Saudi Embassy (@SaudiEmbassyUSA) November 25, 2013
I doubt we can expect Saudi Arabia to take the lead in non-proliferation diplomacy, but I wouldn’t count on them plotting with Israel to carry out anti-Iran military strikes either. The Mideast “free of all WMD” is a rhetorical dagger aimed at Israel’s nuclear arsenal. Bit by bit that critical taboo subject is emerging from the shadows of journalistic neglect.