One of the highlights of the WikiLeaks documents revealed the fact that many Arab states share Israel’s fear regarding the Iranian nuclear program. In fact, some of them are much more worried than Jerusalem. In one of the leaked memos, the Saudi king himself asked the United States to “cut off the head of the snake.” The leaders of Qatar, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates made similar statements. Iran constitutes an existential threat to them, and the American regime, which has enjoyed their loyalty for years, was asked to deal with it.
Except that the United States didn’t deliver the goods. The Americans, with the enthusiastic support of Western Europe, made it clear that they view economic sanctions as the primary plan of action against Tehran. The economic crisis and the deepening quagmire in Afghanistan has made Washington even less determined. It’s no longer even pretending that all options are on the table.
Iran understands the situation perfectly well, and is responding to the sanctions regime with foot-dragging. Tehran calls for dialog, shows up at meetings, creates crises and solutions — and all the while, the centrifuges are at work. The first phase of sanctions do not weaken regimes. Rather, they weaken the Iranian people by making most of the population economically dependent on the government, decreasing chances for change from within. If that doesn’t complicate things enough, the development of a third nuclear reactor, which had been hidden from the West, was revealed this week.
Even if sanctions are useful in the long run, this soft and patient approach on the part of the West toward Iran seems, in the Middle East, an expression of weakness. The Saudi king understands he can’t count on Washington to preserve his immediate interests, despite the close ties between the countries. Saudi Arabia is facing a double challenge: not only is it concerned by the nuclear program, but also by Iran’s subversive activity, through the Shi’ite population, in all of the Gulf states. The matters are closely linked, and so long as the nuclear program advances, so will the boldness of Tehran’s protégés.
In Saudi Arabia’s eyes, the only logical solution is to join the arms race. For years, Saudi Arabia has been preserving good relations with Pakistan out of the assumption that the world’s only Muslim nuclear power will help its allies in times of trouble, or at least assist them by providing “shortcuts” to a nuclear program, if and when the decision is taken to launch one. In January, the magazine Foreign Affairs revealed signs of contacts between the Saudis and Pakistan, including “dealings on matters touching on nuclear weapons, nuclear technology and security assurances.” In light of the geopolitical reality, it’s safe to assume that we will continue to see similar news items in the near future.
This is the true significance of the Iranian nuclear program: not only a direct threat on other countries in the region, but also an increase in the strength and boldness of terror groups and Shi’ite organizations; an expansion of the nuclear arms race to other regimes, some moderate, others less so; and on the way, the horror scenario of atomic weapons falling into the hands of a terror group, a regime under collapse or a rebel state. In light of these threats, a total revision of the American perspective is in order, as are new ways to threaten the Iranians. Otherwise, we will soon find ourselves facing total chaos on both a regional and international level.