Analysis: Iran faces shift in strategy from moderate Arabs

Morocco decides to sever its relations with the Islamic Republic, leaving it more isolated as it prepares to enter into talks with the Obama administration.

iran revolution (photo credit: AP [file])
iran revolution
(photo credit: AP [file])
Iran was stung after Morocco decided on Friday to sever its relations with the Islamic Republic, leaving the country even more isolated as it prepared to enter into talks with the Obama administration. Morocco had accused Iran of "intolerable interference" and trying to spread Shi'ite Islam in the Sunni Arab country. The decision by the North African country was also seen as further proof that an increasing number of moderate Arab states were ready to pursue a more confrontational policy toward Iran. "It is a shift in the strategy of moderate Arab states vis-a-vis Iran," said Gamal Abdel Gawad, the head of the international relations unit at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. Gawad said that in seeking to avoid confrontation, moderate Arab states believe they had given Iran the opportunity to increase it's influence in the Middle East. "They [the Arab states] decided to fight back," he said. Last week, Saudi Arabia's top diplomat, Prince Saud al-Faisal, called for a unified vision in dealing with the "Iranian challenge," specifically concerning security in the Persian Gulf, as well as Iran's pursuit of nuclear capabilities. The new Arab strategy intends to limit Iranian influence in the broader Middle East - which is considered a bargaining chip by Teheran - and thus will likely have some sort of impact on the country's future negotiations with Washington. If you deny Iran some of these bargaining chips, Gawad said, it could put the country in a weaker position for negotiations. Such a course of action, however, is not considered likely to affect Iran's focus on its nuclear program, which it sees as a central component of its foreign policy. On Sunday, Israel's top military intelligence officer, Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, warned that Iran had "crossed the threshold" and had the expertise and materials required to produce nuclear weapons. The announcement came on the same day that Iran tested a precision air-to-surface missile with a 70-mile range , a weapon that would give it the ability to threaten US and other ships operating in the Persian Gulf. Israeli experts on Iran are, however, somewhat divided on the best way to contain the Iranian threat at this critical juncture. Menashe Amir, an Iranian affairs expert and chief editor of the Israeli Foreign Ministry's Persian Web site, argues that the US should drop the idea of negotiations with Iran and instead pursue a policy of serious international sanctions against the country. Alternatively, according to Amir, should the US decide to pursue negotiations with Iran, such proceedings should begin immediately in order to keep from giving Iran more time to achieve its nuclear aims. Amir further stated that the Iranians were very experienced in drawing out negotiations in order to waste time, and said that the Americans had to move fast. "As soon as they decide to make the bomb," he said, "it may take them six months to do so" although they would then have to resolve a number of technical problems to be able to actually use it. Amir further noted that the current global situation allowed Teheran to continue the pursuit of its nuclear program. The new Obama administration is still trying to determine how to deal with the Iranian issue and is waiting for the country's next presidential election, scheduled for June. The Europeans are waiting to see the results of America's approach, as well as the outcome of Russian-American talks on Iran, which could take several months. In addition, Israel still has to form a coalition government which will determine the country's course of action in relation to the Iranian threat. "Meanwhile, the Iranians are going on with their program without any disturbance and that's a very dangerous situation," Amir said. But Meir Javedanfar, another Iranian affairs expert and co-author of the Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran, feels that Obama should try to negotiate with the Iranians and show the international community that Iran is not that interested in stopping its nuclear program. "I think by that time, he'll have more leverage to impose tougher sanctions," he said. America, Javedanfar argues, should try diplomacy for now, increase intelligence cooperation and adopt a comprehensive, ambitious public diplomacy campaign against Iran's nuclear program that does not rely on military threats. He added that the US could utilize an approach that strongly highlights the benefits of cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency and ending Iran's isolation. "Threats against Iran only help the hardliners there; we should be weakening them, not strengthening them," he said. Javedanfar and Amir both agree a "military option" should only be used as a last resort since Israel would be vulnerable to any type of Iranian response. Javedanfar also warned that the military option was worth shelving if it did not set back Iran's nuclear program by at least 10 or 15 years. "If Israel bombs Iran's nuclear facilities and Iran manages to make a bomb within the next 10 years, the level of threat from Iran will be two- to three-fold... in the way they will threaten Israel and the amount of support they will provide to militant groups," he said. AP contributed to this report.