Arabs want Iran to remain isolated

The Arab nations fear that once sanctions against Iran are lifted, Tehran will try to dominate West Asia.

The communiqué issued following US President Barack Obama’s May 13-14 summit with leaders from Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states declared that Washington’s Arab allies consider their interests in the projected deal with Iran over its nuclear programme. However, the possibility that Tehran could build nuclear weapons is not the Arabs’ primary concern. They want Iran to remain isolated and sanctioned.  

They fear that once the US and the international community lift the crippling economic and financial sanctions in exchange for limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities, Tehran will boost efforts to dominate West Asia. For Sunni Arab rulers, the challenge posed by Shia Iran is existential. Therefore, Obama’s get together at the Camp David presidential retreat was never going to concede Arab demands for the following three reasons:
Iran under the Shah, a US ally, rivalled the Sunni powers, particularly Saudi Arabia, in a political and economic competition for regional influence but after seizing power in 1979, Iran’s Shia revolutionaries sought to export their ideology of rule by God-guided clerics and awake disadvantaged Arab Shias. Since 85 per cent of Arab Muslims are Sunnis, Iran did not succeed in this mission.

This was until 2003 after the US occupied Iraq, a Shia majority Arab country, and installed a Shia fundamentalist regime with close ties to Tehran. This radically transformed the regional balance of power. Sunni rulers who had taken part in the Bush administration’s war to oust Baghdad ’s secular government felt Washington had betrayed them.

The lukewarm support of the US for the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that toppled the republican presidents of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, threatened the king of Bahrain, and brought the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood to power in Tunisia and Egypt also alienated the Saudis, who see the Brotherhood as a rival to their leadership of Sunnis.

Finally, Obama’s gradual rapprochement with the Iranian government led by President Hassan Rouhani has convinced the Saudis, Washington’s oldest ally in West Asia, that the US is abandoning Riyadh and its Gulf allies and leaving the monarchies at the mercy of a potentially ascendant Iran where the system of governance has some attractions.
Unlike the Saudi and Gulf rulers, Rouhani is an elected president who appears to enjoy the backing of a majority of Iranians. Iran’s system of government is, after all, based on a limited form of democracy – a form of governance which has made no inroads in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

Iranian women vote, run for election, and study and work alongside men while women in Saudi Arabia are secluded and denied most rights, including the right to drive. Iran has long been accused of stirring up Saudi Shias, who live in the oil-rich eastern province and suffer discrimination by the kingdom’s reactionary Sunni religious establishment.
Shia majority rebellion

Iran is blamed for the 2011

rising of the Bahraini Shia majority against the Sunni ruling family which has been kept
on the throne by Saudi National Guardsmen and for the current Shia Houthi rebellion in Yemen which Saudi Arabia is trying to crush by conducting a bombing campaign that has, so far, failed to counter Houthi territorial advances that country. 

Iran has also foiled the drive by Sunni fundamentalist jihadis backed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whose regime has been allied with Iran since 1980. This policy, also adopted by Turkey, has led to the rise of al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front and IS in Syria and Iraq and the latter’s conquest of about one-third of the territory of each of these countries.

To demonstrate their displeasure over US policies, only two Arab rulers out of six attended the summit, Kuwait’s  Sabah Ahmad al-Sabah and Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Omans’ Qaboos and United Arab Emirates President Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan were too ill to travel while Saudi King Salman bin Abdel Aziz Bahraini ruler Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifa simply did not participate.

King Salman sent Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, the kingdom’s anti-terrorism chief and current Interior minister, and his deputy Prime Muhammad bin Salman, the king’s favourite son and defence minister. Prince Muhammad bin Nayef cannot be discounted as he is the kingdom’s strong man.

Obama pledged to defend Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states against external attack, presumably by Iran, but did not give them cast-iron written security commitments or assurances that sanctions that have partially contained Iran for three decades will not be lifted quickly or completely.

The Arabs also seek to buy Western military equipment so that they would have a quantitative and qualitative military edge over Iran, a demand Israel opposes, fearing that ultimately, a massive Arab arsenal could be used against the Jewish state.  On this issue, Israel can count on the backing of the US Congress in spite of pressures from US arms manufacturers not to place impediments on sales to Saudi Arabia and Gulf states.

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