OPINION: It’s not about Iran

It’s not about Iran

As President Bush travels through the Middle East, the prevailing assumption is that Arab states are primarily focused on the rising Iranian threat and that their attendance at the Annapolis conference with Israel in November was motivated by this threat. This assumption, reflected in the president’s speech in the United Arab Emirates yesterday, could be a costly mistake.

Israel and the Bush administration place great emphasis on confronting Iran’s nuclear potential and are prepared to engage in a peace process partly to build an anti-Iran coalition. Arabs see it differently. They use the Iran issue to lure Israel and the United States into serious Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking, having concluded that the perceived Iranian threats sell better in Washington and Tel Aviv than the pursuit of peace itself.

Many Arab governments are of course concerned about Iran and its role in Iraq, but not for the same reasons as Israel and the United States. Israel sees Iran’s nuclear potential as a direct threat to its security, and its support for Hezbollah and Hamas as a military challenge.

Arab governments are less worried about the military power of Hamas and Hezbollah than they are about support for them among their publics. They are less worried about a military confrontation with Iran than about Iran’s growing influence in the Arab world. In other words, what Arab governments truly fear is militancy and the public support for it that undermines their own popularity and stability.

In all this, they see Iran as a detrimental force but not as the primary cause of militant sentiment. Most Arab governments believe instead that the militancy is driven primarily by the absence of Arab-Israeli peace.

This argument has been a loser in Washington, rejected by many and not taken seriously by others. The issue of Iran gets more traction inside the Beltway. [complete article]

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  1. Indeed, Arab governments in the area are most concerned about Iran’s influence upon their own Shiite populations — who tend to be concentrated in the areas with the most oil (hmm…). Given that the U.S.’s reputation in the region is somewhere lower than a snake’s belly, any U.S. action against Iran is only going to increase Iran’s influence on those populations. Not what they’re interested in by any means, and any U.S. assumptions to the contrary are… delusional. Like all too much of U.S. foreign policy, alas.