A key concern of those who believe a nuclear Iran would be disastrous is that it would prompt “moderate” Arab states to switch into the Iranian camp — due to fear that America would be unable to protect them against a nuclear-armed neighbor and a desire to align themselves with the “strong horse,” which succeeded in going nuclear despite American opposition, rather than the “weak horse,” which proved unwilling or unable to prevent this development. But it now seems Iran won’t even need to obtain the bomb to make this happen: the growing realization that Washington has no real stomach for stopping it is enough.
This conclusion emerges from two incidents reported by Haaretz Arab affairs analyst Zvi Bar’el. First, Iran’s military exercises in the Persian Gulf this week were observed by “a high-level military delegation from Qatar. It was headed by Admiral Abed al-Rahim al-Janahi, who said his country wants to benefit from the Iranian experience, and that he was planning joint exercises for the two armies.”
This is particularly noteworthy given a fact that Bar’el didn’t mention: U.S. forces used Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base for their campaigns in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, Qatar originally upgraded the base to lure the U.S. military. Now it’s planning joint military exercises with Iran.
Bar’el also quoted an Al-Arabiya interview with Turki al-Faisal, head of the King Faisal Institute of Global Strategic Studies — and also a former head of Saudi Arabian intelligence, a former ambassador to London and Washington, the Saudi foreign minister’s brother, and King Abdullah’s cousin. As such, Bar’el wrote, al-Faisal most likely represents the ruling family’s views.
And what are those views? Hitherto, Riyadh has considered Tehran its chief regional rival. But al-Faisal termed the Gulf states’ ties with Iran “historic ties that are built on interests, blood relationships and proximity.” He also opposed sanctions on Tehran, saying he prefers “dialogue,” and said Israel posed a far greater threat to the region than Iran does.
The prospect of a shift in Saudi Arabia’s allegiance ought to alarm even the Obama administration. Saudi Arabia is not only one of America’s main oil suppliers; it’s also the country Washington relies on to keep world oil markets stable — both by restraining fellow OPEC members from radical production cuts and by upping its own production to compensate for temporary shortfalls elsewhere.
Granted, Riyadh is motivated partly by self-interest: unlike some of its OPEC colleagues, it understands that keeping oil prices too high for too long would do more to spur alternative-energy development than any amount of global-warming hysteria. And since its economy depends on oil exports, encouraging alternative energy is the last thing it wants to do.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that Saudi Arabia has been generally effective as stabilizer-in-chief of world oil markets and has no plausible replacement in this role. And since the U.S. economy remains highly oil-dependent, a Saudi shift into Iran’s camp would effectively put America’s economy at the mercy of the mullahs in Tehran.
That’s a prospect that ought to keep Washington policymakers awake at night.