As speculation grows over Israeli or American plans to attack Iran’s nuclear
facilities, questions are being raised over Arab support for a military strike.
Last year’s WikiLeaks trove of US diplomatic cables showed unanimous support
among Arab rulers for military action. Then as now, however, in public, those
same rulers have remained tight-lipped.
The cables revealed an abiding
mistrust across the region of Iranian ambitions. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah
urged Washington to “cut off the head of the snake,” and both he and
then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak described the Islamic Republic as “evil”
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An Iranian nuclear weapon, Mubarak warned, was liable
to set off a region-wide arms race.
“Bomb Iran, or live with an Iranian
bomb,” added Zeid Rifai, then president of the Jordanian senate. “Sanctions,
carrots, incentives won’t matter.”
In the Persian Gulf, the rulers of
Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were all reportedly in favor of a
So too was the king of Bahrain, where a Sunni elite rules over a
large Shi’ite majority and which officials in Iran have described as the
country’s “fifteenth province.”
At the time, not a single Arab ruler
dared express his support publicly. Now – with the so-called Arab Spring at its
peak and ahead of Wednesday’s release of the latest IAEA report on Iran
caution again seems to be at a premium.
“In the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq
War, Arab countries said across the board that they were against the invasion,
then one by one each crumbled and fell in behind the US,” said Jonathan
Schanzer, vice president of research at the Washington-based Foundation for
Defense of Democracies.
“The difference is that it isn’t the US leading
the charge here, but the Israelis – that creates a different
None of these states want to be the one that openly allowed the
Israelis to have overflight rights.
“At the end of the day the Iraq
coalition of Arab states was relatively easy despite the posturing. This time...
though most of these states want to see an attack, the danger is being branded a
traitor and siding with the Zionist entity” he said. “These states travel in
herds, in packs – when one breaks, the others feel more comfortable breaking as
“I suspect we’ll see a quiet, almost invisible coalition that
provides any assistance Israel needs but in such a way that provides them cover
and plausible deniability,” Schanzer said.
Ilan Berman, vice president of
the American Foreign Policy Council, agreed.
“The threat posed by a
nuclear Iran is not strictly an Israeli issue. Many regional states are deeply
apprehensive over Iran’s nuclear program, and are likely to approve of decisive
action against it. As a result, a military strike on Iran may not ignite a
regional conflagration, or create greater sympathy for the Iranian regime. Arab
states could, simply, look the other way,” he said.
“The longer Iran’s
nuclear program is allowed to progress without serious penalties, the more
convinced regional states will become of two things. The first is that they need
to erect their own strategic counterweights to Iran, likely in the form of a
nuclear capability,” Berman said. “The second is that they can do so with
impunity since, if the West hasn’t punished Iran for its nuclear advances, they
won’t be [punished] either. The result will be a multi-nuclear Middle East – and
a security nightmare for both the United States and Israel.”