Egypt and Saudi Arabia are preparing themselves for war with Iran. The two Arab countries just held their first joint military exercises called Tabuk-2 over a one-week period, simulating a scenario unofficially based on a potential conflict with the Iranians. The exercises took place in the northern Egyptian desert and included F-16 aircraft, helicopters, and artillery units. The forces practiced defending against an enemy offensive and counter-attacking with an invasion into the attacker’s territory.
The Israeli intelligence website Debkafile accurately analyzes what this scenario means. They note that the commander of the Saudi forces in the exercise was Prince Khaled Bin Sultan of the Ministry of Defense and Aviation. His most recent experience was in leading the Saudi forces fighting the extremist Shiite Houthis in Yemen that spearheaded a proxy war waged by Iran. The Egyptians and Saudis are preparing to defend Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province from an Iranian assault. This province is about three-fourths Shiite and is the location of about 90 percent of the Saudi oil production. It is ripe for instability and Iranian-backed subversion.
These exercises indicate that the Egyptians are committed to quickly sending reinforcements to the Saudis in the event of Iranian intervention in the Eastern Province, as well as a joint counter-offensive into western Iran to force the regime to pull back its forces. Iran has experienced much internal strife in this area, particularly in the Arab-populated province of Khuzestan. This province holds 90 percent of Iran’s oil production, making it the Iranian equivalent of the Saudi Eastern Province. The Egyptians and Saudis seem to believe that the Arabs in this area, as well as possibly other disgruntled minorities, will rise up in arms against the regime. Acts of violence by these minorities against the regime’s security forces, military bases, and infrastructure have been rising in recent years.
The two Arab countries have a right to be worried. The Iranian proxy war in Yemen showed that the regime is becoming increasingly aggressive in the Gulf. And shortly after the Egyptian government arrested 49 Hezbollah operatives in April 2009 for involvement in a terrorist plot, the terrorist group called for the overthrow of the moderate Arab regimes, specifically that of Egypt. The country’s prime minister flatly stated that Hezbollah had “virtually declared war.” During the fighting in Yemen, the Iranian regime threatened to bring the violence to Saudi territory and warned the royal family that their actions could cause their overthrow.
The leader of the Iranian branch of Hezbollah, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer Kharrazi, has openly stated that Iran must create an “Islamic United States” that stretches from Palestine to Afghanistan in order to set the stage for the arrival of the Mahdi. The Iraqi Baath Party and the Saudi Wahhabists are specifically mentioned by Kharrazi as enemies that must be vanquished. Therefore, in the view of Kharrazi and undoubtedly the theocratic fanatics that govern Iran, a campaign to seize the Eastern Province and collapse the Arab regimes is a religious obligation.
The desire to unite all the Shiites of Iran, Afghanistan, and the Arab world into one bloc is further heightened by Iran’s own vulnerabilities. The regime is running out of oil. One study says that rising domestic consumption means that Iran will not be able to export oil by as early as 2015, eliminating the majority of the regime’s export revenue. With a steeply declining economy exasperating the country’s internal unrest, the regime will conclude that its prophetic destiny — as detailed by Kharrazi — coincides with its national interests.
Iran and the Sunni Arab world are therefore on a collision course that can only be avoided by regime change in Iran or capitulation. The Arabs’ best hope is a united military front that can beat back Iranian proxy warfare and that the regime is somehow prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons capabilities. Enter Israel.
In July 2009, the Egyptians permitted two Israeli missile boats and a nuclear submarine to go through the Suez Canal, simulating a possible attack on Iran. In June, over a dozen American ships and one from Israel also traveled through the Suez Canal under Egyptian protection. It is now an open secret that Saudi Arabia has given Israel the green light to use its airspace to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, reportedly even simulating such an event. A member of Israel’s parliament has said that a “wall-to-wall coalition” of Muslim countries have secretly assured Israel of their support for any action to stop a nuclear Iran from becoming a reality.
The Egyptians and Saudis are serious about the Iranian threat because they understand that they are the first on the chopping block and are the most vulnerable to Iran’s designs, much more so than Israel. They are said to be planning more joint exercises for the near future. The Arabs believe a major regional war is a distinct possibility, if not a probability. And so should we.