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Leaky Diplomacy and Arab Anxiety

Authors: Dana H. Allin, International Institute for Strategic Studies, and Steven Simon, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
January 25, 2011
Oxford University Press

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The Wikileaks trove of diplomatic documents confirms what many have known for a long time: Israel is not the only Middle Eastern country that fears a nuclear armed Iran and wants Washington to do something about it.

If Tehran was listening, the truth of this fear was apparent last month in Bahrain, where the International Institute for Strategic Studies organized a large meeting of Gulf Arab ministers, King Abdullah of Jordan, Iran's foreign minister Mottaki, and top officials from outside powers including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The convocation was polite: no one said it was time to “cut off the head of the snake,” as Saudi Arabia's King was reported, in one of the Wikileaks cables, to have urged in regard to Iran. But Arab anxiety about Iran's power, and how it could be augmented by nuclear power, was palpable.

As one might also expect, the closer Arab capitals are to Iran, apart from Baghdad, the more fervently their rulers implore Washington to take vigorous action--up to and including military action --against Iranian nuclear facilities. Some, like Saudi Arabia, have offered to make up for Iran's lost oil production in the event of war to limit the adverse effect of higher prices on a weak US economy. In those countries closest to Iran, moreover, the Arab street shares regimes' worries. In a poll last year in Saudi Arabia, 40 % of respondents in three large cities said that the US should bomb Iran, while one out of four said that it would be OK with them if even Israel did the job. The governments of countries farther away but within range of Iran's Shahab 3 missiles--such as Egypt--are also nervous. In an act of not-so-subtle messaging, Egypt has agreed to let nuclear capable Israeli warships through the Suez Canal, so that the Israeli Navy can get to the Persian Gulf quickly. These ships would not be going there for a port visit and shopping at the Sharjah souk.

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