Saudi Arabia and Israel don’t agree on much. But when it comes to Iran, it’s a different story.

The real position of the Middle East


By Ben Knight

Saudi Arabia and Israel don’t agree on much. But when it comes to Iran, it’s a different story.

I’ve often encountered a tendency among Westerners to assume that the Middle East is a homogenous entity; and that Arab governments naturally support Tehran in its stand-off with the West.

Of course, the exact opposite is true. And the WikiLeaks cables give an insight into just how nervous Iran is making its neighbours in the Arab world.

For example, in Kuwait – where in February this year, the US Ambassador reported back to Washington these aggressive comments from Kuwait’s interior minister, Jaber al-Khaled Al Sabah:

“[The minister said] Iran is intent upon exporting its [Islamic] revolution, and can only be deterred by force from achieving its nuclear ambitions; he characterised Iran as the “beating heart” of Islamic extremism.”

The cable acknowledges that the minister is a hardliner – and of course, Kuwait has a recent history of having the US launch a war in its defence.

While other regimes were against the US attacking Iran, their concerns were the same.

Like this report from the US Embassy in Amman:

“The metaphor most commonly deployed by Jordanian officials when discussing Iran is of an octopus whose tentacles reach out insidiously to manipulate, foment, and undermine the best laid plans of the West and regional moderates.”

This background note to the US secretary of state described the Saudi King Abdullah’s advice to the US on how to take advantage of the protests in Iran after last year’s election:

“The King told General [James L] Jones that Iranian internal turmoil presented an opportunity to weaken the regime – which he encouraged – but he also urged that this be done covertly and stressed that public statements in support of the reformers were counterproductive.”

In July last year, Egypt’s security chief Omar Soliman was wary.

“We are ready for good relations with Iran,” Soliman noted, but only if Iran ceased interfering and supporting terrorists in the region.

“We hope Iran will stop supporting Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and other cells” within Egypt Soliman said, “but if not – we are ready.”

Fear of Iranian ambitions in the region is not the only thread that runs through these cables, from Cairo to Kuwait.

Another is that the most effective way to stop Islamic terrorism linked to Iran (think Hamas and Hezbollah) is to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Jordanian government position was reported thus:

“Iran’s influence derives from the perception that Tehran is able to “deliver” while moderates are not. The main failure of moderates as cited by radicals is ongoing Palestinian suffering and dispossession despite an international consensus favouring a viable, independent Palestinian state living peacefully next to Israel.”

Regimes like those in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia have much to fear from Islamic extremists. All three have been targets of Islamic terrorism, generated from within their own population, or from neighbouring countries like Yemen.

So if this is how Arab governments think, why is it so hard for the US and Europe to raise a consensus for tough sanctions on Iran?

The answer, or course, is China – with its massive investment in the Iranian energy sector.

It might be Iran’s only powerful friend in the world – but they don’t come much bigger.

Ben Knight is the ABC’s Middle East correspondent.


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