Israel contemplates Sunni ‘allies’ on Iran
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.