Israelis, Saudis are wallflowers in Iranian deal
WASHINGTON — As other world powers line up behind the interim deal to restrict Iran's nuclear program, two main holdouts — Israel and Saudi Arabia — remain deeply opposed but aren't likely to muster enough support to derail the plan, foreign policy analysts said on Monday.
Israel, which boasts an unacknowledged nuclear arsenal, rejects Iran's nuclear program in principle, arguing that Israel would be the first target of any Iranian strike. Analysts say that Saudi Arabia and some smaller Persian Gulf states are more broadly concerned with an ascendant Iran in a region where old alliances are being challenged — and even broken — as the region lurches through the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings.
A Saudi government statement said the agreement could represent a first step toward a comprehensive solution to Iran's nuclear program “provided there is goodwill.” Those were the first conciliatory Saudi remarks on the interim deal, but analysts dismissed the statement as mere diplomatic courtesy and said that the Saudis were sure to keep the pressure on behind the scenes.
“Any deal is, by definition, a bad deal for them,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Institution's Doha Center in Qatar. “For the Saudis, it's more about Iran's potential rehabilitation and re-entry into the global community. For the Saudis, a more influential Iran means they'll be less influential.”
Making sure the deal holds, foreign policy analysts say, requires not only the political will on the part of the Iranians to keep their end of the bargain, but diplomatic maneuvering by the United States to keep the spoilers at bay. That's no simple feat when the two most vocal critics of the deal happen to be two of the region's most steadfast U.S. allies, neither of which seems prepared to accept that Washington is tweaking its long-stagnant policy to reflect changes coursing through the Middle East.
“American policy on the Middle East has been resting on Saudi Arabia and Israel for the past 70 years, and now that's being called into question, as it was going to be at some point,” said Michael Stephens, a Qatar-based specialist on Gulf states, Israel and Syria for the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies, a British research center.
“The Americans are making a whole set of recalculations in the region,” Stephens added. “Ultimately, Israel and Saudi Arabia aren't coming up as high on the list as they used to.”
Israel is virtually alone in its maximalist stance against any Iranian nuclear program. Saudi Arabia's tepid statement on Monday not only is inconsistent with the positions of most of its Western allies, but from fellow Gulf states, Stephens said.
Oman, which was instrumental as a go-between in the negotiations process between Iran and the United States, is the closest Gulf state to Iran and polices the Strait of Hormuz. Dubai, the glitzy city in the United Arab Emirates, has close ties to Iran from years of Persian trade. Qatar shares with Iran the South Pars/North Dome gas field, the largest in the world — “their cash cow,” Stephens called it — and counts its relations with Tehran at least as important as its relations with Riyadh. Only Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, and Bahrain, he said, are as clearly ruffled by the deal as Saudi Arabia.
“The Saudis, militarily, are playing a regional game the others are not,” Stephens said. He ticked off the areas of conflict: “Syria. Yemen. Iraq. Bahrain. Lebanon. Those are all Saudi-versus-Iran, Cold War-style confrontations going on.”
Alireza Nader, a senior international policy analyst at the RAND Corp., a global policy think tank, said that sanctions from Congress could “complicate or derail the process.” He noted, however, that they are only a hypothetical at this point and that Congress has rebuffed Israeli and Saudi lobbying on issues related to Syria and Egypt.
“For both Israel and Saudi Arabia, there are officials who are very nervous about all this, but there are others who realize they're at risk of becoming marginalized,” Nader said.
For now, the two nations are likely to continue pushing for sanctions, sounding off in private and at times in public, and praying that the Iranians slip up so they can say, “Look, these guys are not serious. They're deceptive,” Nader said.
He and other analysts said it's highly unlikely that Israel would follow through on its repeated threats of a unilateral strike against Iran without U.S. consent, especially now.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- New York City hunkers down as Nor’easter threatens blizzard conditions
- Ex-CIA officer convicted of leaking info about covert Iran mission
- Small drone crashes at White House complex, origin unclear
- Ramping up e-cigarette voltage may be more hazardous to health
- Arizona hospital tests brain tumor drugs by giving patients dose, then operating
- Government agencies use high-tech radar devices to peer inside houses without warrant
- Attorney general nominee Lynch draws glowing review before Senate confirmation hearing
- Orcas could land on endangered list