Middle East Times: As Iran's close neighbor, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia feels the threat of a nuclear-powered Iran probably as much as the Islamic Republic's archenemy, Israel. Indeed, the very thought of Iran — a Shiite state under the control of the country's militant clergy — is ample reason to worry the bastion of Sunni orthodoxy as much as it worries the Jewish state, if perhaps not more so.
Middle East Times
By CLAUDE SALHANI (UPI Contributing Editor)
As Iran's close neighbor, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia feels the threat of a nuclear-powered Iran probably as much as the Islamic Republic's archenemy, Israel. Indeed, the very thought of Iran — a Shiite state under the control of the country's militant clergy — is ample reason to worry the bastion of Sunni orthodoxy as much as it worries the Jewish state, if perhaps not more so.
The Saudi leadership, however, wants to avoid having the current tension, brought about by Iran's intent on achieving nuclear capability, deteriorate into an open conflict. Well aware of the potential role the existing conflicts in Iraq and Palestine, as well as the so-called war on terror, can play in escalating and expanding the Middle East crisis, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has been working to defuse the explosive atmosphere prevailing in the Middle East.
Although the Saudi leadership fully understands the devastating implications a generalized conflict in the region would have on the economy of the Gulf states, some voices are calling for more muscled response to Iran's confrontational foreign policy.
In a column published in the Internet publication Elaph, Saudi Arabian commentator Saleh al-Rachid ventured into uncharted territory, openly stating that Saudi Arabian interests converge with those of Israel.
"Perhaps it is a strange coincidence that, this time around, our strategic interests coincide with those of Israel. The regime of the mullahs in Iran is our enemy, and at the same time it is an enemy not just of Israel, but of world peace and security," wrote Rachid.
"Confrontation is the solution. There is no solution but confrontation," added the Saudi writer in a report translated from Arabic by the Middle East Media Research Institute.
The Saudi writer sees Iran's actions as an attempt to gain regional hegemony and impose its influence via its sectarian allies, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and anti-government forces in Yemen.
"Imagine what Iran's influence, hegemony, and fifth column would be like if Iran had a nuclear bomb?" asks the writer.
And even if in private circles numerous Arab leaders have long espoused the thought, none ventured as far as saying publicly what Rachid wrote, particularly in regards to Palestine:
"I know that the Arab demagogues stand together indiscriminately with anyone who is against Israel and America. But we need to not be swept away by these demagogues as we were in the past. This time, the absolute priority must be our strategic security in the Gulf, which is threatened by Iran — even if this comes at the expense of the Palestinian cause."
The Saudi commentator goes even further: "Thus, we need to push the world powers, and especially the U.S. and the EU, towards military confrontation to neutralize the Iranian enemy, whatever the cost, before the nuclear bomb makes it too late — even if it is against the will of the Arabs of the north."
Indeed, Iran's pursuit of nuclear technology and its interference in Lebanon and other countries in the region have sent alarm bells ringing, from Riyadh to Beirut and from Tel Aviv to Washington. But if Tehran believes Washington may be too preoccupied by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to venture into a third conflict, the Saudis, on the other hand, have made their position "very clear" to the Iranians.
"We will stop them," a Saudi adviser told this reporter over the weekend. "What the Iranians are doing — not only in Iran, but in Yemen, Bahrain and Lebanon — is unacceptable to Saudi Arabia, and we will oppose them as we have in Yemen," the adviser, who asked that his name not be used, told this reporter.
Without nuclear weapons, Iran cannot in all sincerity compete against the Saudi Arabian giant and expect to win. Iran, according to the same source, is in deep economic difficulty. In opposing Saudi Arabia, the largest economy in the region and the greatest oil-producing country in the world, the Iranians have bitten off more than they could ever possibly hope to chew. Their military lacks much of everything, and the Iranian air force was forced over the years to cannibalize older jets to keep its force flying. Outdated and badly in need of spare parts, Iran's once-modern air force, comprising 450 U.S. and French state-of-the-art fighter jets, stands today as a shadow of its past.
And even when it comes to religion, where Iran's leadership try to portray themselves as the representatives of Islam, the Saudis are there to remind Iran — and indeed the world — that Iranians are Shiites and, as the security expert was quick to point out, "the Iranians are Shiites and do not represent Islam."
"We have made it very clear to them," said the Saudi adviser. "If they continue, they will be hurt."
(Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.)