Iran's nukes: Gulf states concerned too

THE Islamic republic of Iran’s flirtation with nuclear technology may end up being a short-lived affair if Saudi Arabia, has anything to say in what goes on in the Gulf region.

By Claude Salhani (View from Washington)

Published: Thu 21 Aug 2008, 10:02 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:12 PM

And Saudi Arabia has a lot to say, even though, as confided a Saudi adviser this weekend, Saudi Arabia usually doesn’t say very much — at least not publically. Privately, however, as was the case of this adviser, someone usually well informed with what transpires within the upper echelons of Saudi security circles, the Saudis are saying quite a lot these days.

The Saudi adviser, who requested anonymity, stipulated in no uncertain terms that what Iran was doing in the Middle East and the Gulf region was extremely dangerous and remained totally “unacceptable” to Saudi authorities. The Islamic republic’s behaviour, not only in their pursuit of nuclear technology, but their meddling in the internal affairs of Yemen, Bahrain and Lebanon is “intolerable” to the Saudis.

Paradoxically, the Saudis — and one might add the rest of the Gulf region — share Israel’s concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The Saudis, according to my source, are as adamant as the Israelis that Iran must not be allowed to endanger the entire region with nuclear proliferation. Saudi Arabia is also preoccupied with Iran’s military adventurism (by proxy) in Lebanon and Yemen.

“Saudi Arabia will stop them (Iran),” said the adviser. He admitted that Iran has the upper hand in Lebanon with Hezbollah, who according to Lebanese analysts is five times stronger today than it was two years ago when it fought Israeli troops in south Lebanon. But, he added, those successes are temporary and in the long run, Iran could not possibly hope to win. “We will oppose them as we have in Yemen,” he told me.

Iran cannot expect to compete against the strongest economy in the region, the largest oil-producing country in the world and the most influential Muslim country and win. The Iranians are in trouble in more than one area, said the adviser, adding that they face serious difficulties at all levels. They are in trouble economically, socially and even from a military perspective, they are “at zero,” said the observer. “And even when it comes to religion, they are Shias and do not represent Islam,” added the Saudi adviser.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards boast of their ability to close down the strategic Straits of Hormouz, the narrow channel at the entrance of the Gulf and through which all shipping in and out of the Gulf — and much of the world’s oil — is obliged to pass. However, the adviser said that is a false claim and Iran’s capacity to do so is extremely limited; yes, they can close Hormouz, “but only for a few hours at most. Especially now with the presence of U.S. warships in the region,” the Saudi specialist told me.

So is Iran truly capable of fending off the world’s last remaining superpower? It might not come to that, just yet the Saudi specialist told me.

“The Iranians are full of rhetoric. They can talk from now until doomsday,” said the Saudi. “We don’t buy into their pretentiousness.” But, he warned, Saudi Arabia was not going to stay with its arms crossed and warned that there would be an armed conflict if Iran continued down the same track.

Saudi Arabia wants to avert a confrontation at all cost. One of the Saudi worries in the event of a U.S. military intervention is what follows that intervention and the departure of US forces from the region leaving the Saudis and other allies on their own.

Furthermore, the Saudis want to avoid nuclear proliferation in the Gulf and say that they have made their opposition to Iran’s ambitions abundantly clear. But whether Iran heard the message remains to be seen.

"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 Saudi commentator Saleh al-Rachid in a report translated from Arabic by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

“Imagine what Iran's influence, hegemony, and fifth column would be like if Iran had a nuclear bomb,” wrote Rachid.

A thought that Saudi Arabia, its Arab neighbours and its newly found “far ally,” Israel, would rather not imagine.

Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times and a political analyst in Washington

More news from