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” and untrustworthy.

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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 strike.

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 problem.

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 well.

“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.”

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