THE BLOG

Israel and Arab States: Strange Bedfellows

Positive winds came out from Geneva on October 16 upon the conclusion of the first round of talks with Iran. Not so positive wind came from Iran's neighbors. The progressing thaw of U.S.-Iran relations is worrying the oil-producing Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia. UN sanctions or any future agreement notwithstanding, they fear they will be doomed if Iran is able to maneuver its way into building a nuclear bomb. It is not that anyone believes that Iran would nuke them in order to gain its goal of dominance of the entire oil reserves of the region; a nuclear attack would not be necessary. Iran would use its nuclear power as a shield, not as a sword. If Iran becomes nuclear, the U.S. will be unable to attack Iran similar to its attack on Iraq following Saddam's invasion of oil-rich Kuwait.

The Gulf Arab States fear that the U.S. will tacitly acquiesce to a nuclear Iran by entering into a porous agreement with a regime that is eager to rid itself from debilitating sanctions, and therefore will enter into any arrangement it could later breach with impunity. The Iranians strategize using two premises: first -- they are certain that the U.S. will not use force against them, President Obama's strong words notwithstanding. They watched how President Obama changed his course after he almost committed to attack Syria, and then submitted the question whether to attack to Congress. The Iranians also understand the no-more-foreign-wars mood amongst the American people. Secondly, it took the U.S. almost two decades to build the wobbly sanctions wall, but it will take a very short time to agree to lift them, even if the process happens gradually. It will be practically impossible to re-apply the sanctions if Iran is found to be in breach by secretly building a nuclear bomb. The Iranians believe, with a great degree of accuracy, that when these two parameters are put together, they will gain the upper hand in the regional high stakes Poker game. Therefore, the grim reality is that Iran is heading toward a win-win situation. The Iranians conclude that unless they militarily invade their neighbors, the U.S. will not launch an attack against their nuclear installations. Iran also knows that once lifted, the sanctions cannot be reinstated. Therefore, what do the Iranians have to lose by signing an agreement to limit their nuclear capacity? If they can turn around and breach it shortly after the sanctions are lifted, business-hungry states will flood Iran with investments and lucrative transactions and they will have no risk of military or economic sanctions.

The Gulf and other Arab oil-producing states read that political map well. They know that within a decade or two, the U.S. shall become energy independent, weaned from their need for oil, thereby reducing their strategic importance. These states also remember recent history when the U.S. put its interests first and abandoned South Vietnam when military losses, enormous casualties and costs forced the U.S. to retreat. With huge oil reserves but with very little military power, the Gulf States are looking for allies, and Israel seems to them a stable regional power with whom to align.

As William Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest: "Misery acquaints a man with strange bed-fellows. " Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has alluded to the emerging new reality of aligning with the Arab States who are also adversarial to Iran when he said at the UN that "the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran and the emergence of other threats in our region have led many of our Arab neighbors to recognize, finally recognize, that Israel is not their enemy."

The warming of Israel's relationship with the Gulf States is not new. Until 2009 Israel had an interest office in Doha, Qatar, which was closed after Israel's operation in Gaza Strip. However, it's not a well-kept secret that Israel continues to have below the radar security and economic cooperation with the Gulf States. Israel's Budget Law of 2013 reveals the existence of an Israeli diplomatic office in an un-named location in the Persian Gulf between 2010 and 2012.

Netanyahu's statement that "Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons" and could take military action to stop it from doing so, "If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone" was music to the Gulf States, particularly when Netanyahu add that "Yet, in standing alone, Israel will know that we will be defending many, many others." Add to the fact that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have substantial Shiite populations -- like Iran, but are Sunni led, and have been outspoken in their opposition to Iran's nuclear program. That makes them seek "off the record" alignment with Israel.

Israel and Arab States in alliance? Politics makes strange bedfellows.

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