Is­rael con­tem­plates Sunni ‘al­lies’ on Iran

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Abra­ham Rabi­novich

JERUSALEM — Is­raeli of­fi­cials on Dec. 11 qui­etly wel­comed a de­ci­sion­by­sev­er­alPer­sianGulf­s­tatesto con­sider a nu­clear en­ergy pro­gram as ev­i­dence the re­gion’s Sunni Arab gov­ern­ments are be­com­ing more openintheirop­po­si­tion­toa­com­mon en­emy — Iran.

While his­tor­i­cally hos­tile to any step that could lead to an “Is­lamic” nu­clear bomb, Is­raelis are weigh­ing that risk against the pos­si­bil­ity of an im­plicit al­liance with neigh­bor­ing Sunni Arab states that share their con­cerns about the prospect of a nu­clear-armed Shi’ite Iran.

The Wash­ing­ton Times re­ported onDec.11thatSunni-Shi’ite­fight­ing in Iraq is al­ready spilling over into the re­gion, with el­e­ments in Saudi Ara­bia and Iran of­fer­ing fi­nan­cial an­dotherback­ing­to­com­pet­ingIraqi fac­tions.

Lead­ers of six Gulf coun­tries, in­clud­ing Saudi Ara­bia, or­dered a fea­si­bil­ity study of a joint atomic en­ergy pro­gram on Dec. 10 at the con­clu­sion of a two-day sum­mit of the Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil (GCC) in Riyadh.

The oil-rich coun­tries, all pre­dom­i­nant­lySun­niArab­states,made it clear that their dec­la­ra­tion was in­tend­ed­to­prodtheWestin­tostop­ping Shi’ite Iran from gain­ing nu­clear weapons.

In Jerusalem, where au­thor­i­ties see an un­spo­ken al­liance tak­ing shape be­tween Is­rael and some Sunni states, of­fi­cials said they viewed “pos­i­tively” the in­creas­ing pres­sure from the Gulf states.

“This move is di­rected against Iran,” an of­fi­cial who re­quested anonymity told the Jerusalem Post. “In the past, th­ese states only talked about­theIra­ni­an­nu­cle­aris­sueusing code words, but now they are com­ing out of the closet in a big way, and this is an ex­am­ple.”

That as­sess­ment was echoed by Ab­de­laziz Sager, chair­man of the Gulf Re­search Cen­ter in Dubai. “They are try­ing to say that if the Ira­nian pro­gram con­tin­ues, [the West] will oblige us to be­come nu­clear-ca­pa­ble too.”

The GCC is made up of Saudi Ara­bia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emi­rates,Qatar,BahrainandO­man. Itsstate­ment­saidtheGCChad­com­mis­sioned a study “to set up a com­mon pro­gram in the area of nu­clear en­ergy for peace­ful pur­poses.”

Iran also in­sists its nu­clear pro­gram is for peace­ful pur­poses, but it is widely as­sumed to be seek­ing nu­clear weapons. Is­raeli of­fi­cials say that non-Gulf Sunni na­tions, like Egypt and Jor­dan, share the GCC’s con­cerns about Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram.

Is­rael has felt in­creas­ingly ex­posed to the Ira­nian nu­clear threat as Europe and even the United States ap­pear to be step­ping back from a con­fronta­tion with Tehran, whose lead­ers have called for Is­rael’s de­struc­tion. But it has been able to draw some com­fort from the con­ver­gence of in­ter­ests with the Sunni states, which are alarmed by the rise of a pow­er­ful Shi’ite “cres­cent” run­ning from Iran through Iraq to the Hezbol­lah strong­hold in south­ern Le­banon.

Dur­ing last sum­mer’s Is­raelHezbol­lah war in Le­banon, Saudi For­eign Min­is­ter Saud al-Faisal termed the Hezbol­lah at­tack that sparked it a “reck­less ad­ven­ture,” and a se­nior Saudi cleric is­sued a re­li­gious edict con­demn­ing the Ira­nian-backed Shi’ite group.

In a ma­jor speech last month, Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert said he looked with fa­vor on the Saudi peace plan pro­posed in 2002 as a ba­sis for peace ne­go­ti­a­tions, a plan that Is­rael had un­til then shrugged off.

Un­derthe­p­lan,Is­rael­would­with­drawfro­ma­ll­ter­ri­to­ri­escap­turedin the 1967 Six-Day War, rec­og­nize a Pales­tini­anstate­and­providea“just” so­lu­tion for Pales­tinian refugees. In re­turn, all Arab states would rec­og­nize Is­rael and es­tab­lish “nor­mal” re­la­tions with it.

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