[Update: See this post which confirms that Goldberg twisted the narrative here.]
After an exchange between the UAE ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba and Jeffrey Goldberg on Tuesday we learn that “the UAE would sooner see military action against Iran’s nuclear program than see the program succeed” — at least that’s what Goldberg says.
But the ambassador also said: “There are many countries in the region who, if they lack the assurance the US is willing to confront Iran, they will start running for cover towards Iran.”
In other words, countries like the UAE will ultimately align themselves with whichever ends up being the most durable power in the region. Even so, autocratic rulers who rely on American support would naturally like the defender of their tenuous legitimacy to maintain its regional dominance.
The Washington Times quotes from the same exchange between Goldberg and al-Otaiba in Aspen:
“I think it’s a cost-benefit analysis,” Mr al-Otaiba said. “I think despite the large amount of trade we do with Iran, which is close to $12 billion … there will be consequences, there will be a backlash and there will be problems with people protesting and rioting and very unhappy that there is an outside force attacking a Muslim country; that is going to happen no matter what.”
“If you are asking me, ‘Am I willing to live with that versus living with a nuclear Iran?,’ my answer is still the same: ‘We cannot live with a nuclear Iran.’ I am willing to absorb what takes place at the expense of the security of the UAE.”
And this is how Goldberg interprets the UAE/Arab position:
It is not only Israel that fears the rise of a nuclear Iran; the Arabs, if anything, fear such a development to a greater degree. The Jews and Arabs have been fighting for one hundred years. The Arabs and the Persians have been going at for a thousand. The idea of a group of Persian Shi’ites having possession of a nuclear bomb scares Arab leader like nothing else — it certainly scares them more than the reality of the Jewish bomb.
Goldberg speaks for Netanyahu and the lobby, but the UAE government does not accept his interpretation of their ambassador’s remarks:
The UAE Assistant Foreign Minister for Political Affairs, Tareq al Haidan said today that the statements attributed by the Washington Times to the UAE Ambassador to the United States, Youssef al Otaiba “are not precise”.
“These statements came as part of general discussions held on the sidelines of an unofficial gathering and were taken out of their context in which Mr. Otaiba was speaking,” Mr al Haidanl said.
“Iran is a neighboring country and we maintain historic relations with it.” He stressed that “the UAE respects and believes in the sovereignty of other states and in the principle of non-interference, of all forms, in their internal affairs.”
“Already, the UAE declared, more than one time and in official statements issued by the Foreign Ministry, its position on the Iranian nuclear issue,” Mr al Haidan added.
“The UAE totally rejects the use of force as a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue and rather calls for a solution through political means that are based on the international legitimacy, transparency as well as the need for working, through the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], on the right of all states to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
“The UAE, at the same time, believes in the need of keeping the Gulf region free of nuclear weapons,” Mr al Haidan said.
As for whether the Arab world is as vexed about Iran as Goldberg claims, perhaps a clearer indication came from one of Israel’s few allies, Jordan, when King Abdullah spoke to the Wall Street Journal in April:
WSJ: What do you think when you look at Iran and international policy. There’s a lot of talk now about how active Iran is in Iraq as far as trying to push their political clients. Do you see it active in Hezbollah/Lebanon? In the Palestinian territories? Is the engagement track working?
HM KING ABDULLAH: Again, I look at it from a different angle. If there are those that are saying that Iran is playing mischief, then I say it is being allowed to play mischief. The platform they use is the injustice of the Palestinians and Jerusalem. So if you start taking those cards off the table, then Iranian influence on the Mediterranean through Hezbollah and Hamas in Gaza diminishes or becomes non existent. My view is that I am really against any military action in Iran, that is Pandora’s box. But by dealing with the core issue, that’s when you start taking cards away from the Iranian regime.
The core issue is Palestine — not an Iranian bomb — and a strike on Iran, that’s Pandora’s box.
Just because Obama put on a shameless performance yesterday to please the Israelis and the lobby, and just because there is no evidence that he is a man of principle, doesn’t mean he’s stupid. He knows what Pandora’s box looks like and he’s just as reluctant as anyone else to find out what it contains.