The unlikeliest of alliances has been created. Many Arab states, including ones who do not even recognize Israel’s right to exist, are finding themselves in the same corner as the Jewish state their populations are taught to hate. Radical Shiite Iran is seen by Sunni Arab governments as more aggressive and a greater threat than Israel. They understand that Iran has the desire to overthrow their regimes.
Anyone with connections in the Middle East, foreign policy apparatus, or intelligence community can tell you that the Arab governments and much of their populations look at Iran with fear. Arab media consistently warn of the regime’s designs, and officials constantly speak of the dangers of neighbors meddling in their affairs — careful not to call Iran out directly, but clear enough to sound the alarm. The anti-Iranian rhetoric has reached levels only rivaled by the vitriol expressed toward the Israelis. Sunni Arab governments have frequently attributed domestic unrest by their Shiite minorities to the Iranians and, in the cases of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, have directly seen Iran wage an undeniable proxy war against them.
The Arab states clearly see Iran’s strategy. The Saudi royal family is well aware that its eastern province, where 90% of the oil is located, has a majority Shiite population that is unhappy with their treatment. The Saudis have publicly accused Iran of harboring al-Qaeda members targeting the kingdom.
Bahrain is a majority Shiite country, and Iranian officials have even talked about annexing the country. The Bahrainis have accused Syria, Iran’s ally, of training terrorists that are targeting them. Kuwait has busted a seven-strong cell of Revolutionary Guards agents that prepared attacks in the country in the event of an attack on Iran.
The United Arab Emirates is about 15-20 percent Shiite and has frequently clashed with Iran in its disputes over three Gulf islands. Even Fatah in the West Bank has publicly taken an anti-Iranian line, consistently denouncing Hamas as a proxy for the regime and attributing Iranian influence to their sabotaging of any negotiations. Remarkably, the Saudis and Fatah placed the blame on Hamas for the 2009 offensive in Gaza, and the Saudis even arrested a prominent cleric who said that attacks on Israelis were permissible in light of the Israeli offensive.
No country has suffered from the ideological extremism and terrorism of Iran and their Syrian allies more than Iraq. Even Israel cannot say that tens of thousands of its citizens have been killed indirectly and directly by the Iranians, with violence threatening to propel the country into civil war and cause the collapse of the government. Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite, and his secular Sunni allies who won the most votes in the most recent national elections are perhaps the most outspoken opponents of Iran’s activity in their country.
Prime Minister al-Maliki, whose coalition came in a close second, isn’t vocally against the Iranian regime but he used his military to fight a wide-ranging offensive against Iranian-backed militias. The view of the relationship between religion and government in the majority Arab Shiite country of Iraq makes them a distinct threat to the Persian extremist Shiites that rule Iran. A new poll found that only 18 percent of Iraq’s Shiites have a favorable view of Iran’s role in their country and only 17 percent have a favorable view of Ahmadinejad. The rest of Iraq’s sects, the Kurds and Sunni Arabs, have an even greater disdain for the Iranian regime.
Egypt and Jordan know they are targets of Iran for their peace with Israel — an unforgivable sin to the mullahs. When terrorists tried to kill two Israeli diplomats in Jordan in January, the government immediately suspected Iran’s involvement, investigating whether Iranian diplomats had brought the explosives into their country. The security services believed individuals connected to al-Qaeda were responsible for launching the attack, but had done so with financing and material from Iran.
The Mubarak regime of Egypt has taken a hard line on the Iranian-backed Hamas, accurately seeing them as inseparable from the Muslim Brotherhood it faces at home. Last spring, the regime arrested 49 members of Hezbollah planning attacks on its soil on Israeli targets. The Egyptian prime minister said that Hezbollah had “virtually declared war” when it called on Muslims to overthrow their government and others in the region. All of these governments and others understand that their sectarian identity and ties with the U.S. mean their replacement or domination is part of Iran’s scheme.
The two Arab governments that stand apart are Syria, Iran’s best ally, and Qatar. Although Qatar houses a major U.S. base, the Qatari emir has been kissing Iran’s behind, saying that the Islamic world needs them to become a superpower. In July 2009, the Qatari chief of staff met with the commander of the Revolutionary Guards and said that anyone threatening Iran also threatens his country and that they’d hold joint naval exercises. This could, of course, just be a way of courting the power that the Qataris believe will ultimately win.
The Arab governments are deathly afraid of a nuclear bomb in the hands of Iran, even if their populations are too focused on the so-called evils of the U.S. and Israel to see it. They may be unsure if Iran will actually use the bomb, but they surely know that the possession of it will enable Iran to take advantage of their fragility in ways thus far unseen.
There are consistent rumors of intelligence gathering and joint contingency planning between Israel and various Arab states; rumors that are probably based in reality. Reports that the Saudis have given Israel permission to use its airspace to attack Iran refuse to go away, despite the predictable denials of officials on both sides. The Egyptian government has openly confirmed that they allowed two Israeli missile boats and a Dolphin-class nuclear-capable submarine to pass through the Suez Canal in July 2009 in an exercise clearly aimed at Iran.
In March, an Israeli member of parliament said that a “wall to wall coalition” of Muslim countries, including ones that don’t even have diplomatic relations with Israel, had sent them secret messages expressing their support for military action against Iran. If a scenario unfolds where Israel attacks Iran with the Arabs secretly assisting, expect those same Arab regimes to viciously condemn the attacks and express support for a UN condemnation. They’ll express their solidarity with Iran, and should Israeli forces cross into their territory, there might be obligatory gunfire upon them that will conveniently miss to show how their sovereignty was violated. The Arab governments will try to escape the wrath of Iran and their angry populations, but will smile behind closed doors.