Who Is Really Terrified By Iranian Nukes? It Is The Gulf Arabs, Understandably So. And Part Of Their Panic Is The Turkish Tilt To Tehran.

by Martin Peretz | September 21, 2010

Yes, I know it is Israel that is preparing for a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. And maybe also America. But, if President Obama is still in the White House when the dreaded confrontation forces itself upon us, he will resist. Still, facing the grim reality from which he has averted his eyes for 20 months and more, he will accomplish the necessary by fobbing the chore off on Jerusalem. After all, the Israelis have already taken out two atomic plants, one at Osirak in Iraq in 1981, the other during 2007 in Syria. Here's what we wrote in TNR on these occasions. By the way, the latter achievement was much more than was reported, including a treasure trove of intelligence, some of it about North Korea. Believe me, I know.

The new feature in the situation is the response of several privileged Arab states to the threat they know Tehran poses to them. Of course, they hate Israel and may even fear Israel...fear for no reason. But they know that the theological and ethnic ambitions that incite the Persians are real. "Arab states fear Iran's nuclear goals" says one headline in Tuesday's Financial Times. Here's another one: "Jets, radar and missile defense orders." They are over a lead story by Roula Khalaf from London and James Drummond in Abu Dhabi titled "Gulf States in $123bn US arms spree."

The participants in the buying spree are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Omar and the United Arab Emirates. Part of their sensible panic is the desertion of Iraq by America, leaving Mesopotamia and the Gulf open to Iranian troops and subterfuge. These super-rich kingdoms have also to fear Shi'a and Al Qaeda terrorists, although the welcome heavy American weapons do not quite fit this chore. So there will be a wider market for equipment designed for counter-insurgency, as Drummond and Carola Hoyos argue also in yesterday's FT: "Iran fear triggers arms surge: Perceived nuclear threat prompts a defense spending spree."

Of course, the Iranian tyranny may be less stable than it seems. After all, after the election it seemed quite shaky with democrats taking over the streets of many cities. But that enthusiasm seems to have waned and, while there are conflicts between Dr. Ahmadinejad's and his goons and some of the ayatollahs, fundamental change as envisioned in TNR articles by Abbas Milani seems far away. In any event, Iran seems to be weathering the sanctions which are, in any case, not exactly tight. There are many holes in them. China, for example, is not a partner to the new sanctions regime at all. And Russia plays along with what it wants to...but cannot be seen as fully committed at all.

So Saudi Arabia is buying 85 new American F-15 jets and refurbishing 70 of the old ones they have. But the F-15s are not the F-35s that are arriving in Israel.

Still, the arming of the royal states and statelets is an expensive and unprecedented commitment to Arab defense.

There is a new and demanding factor in the geopolitics of the region. Turkey had had its eyes on entering Europe but has realistically lost any hope that this will happen. Britain still sings the Turkish anthem. So NATO will be the extent of Ankara's involvement in the continent, and the fact is that NATO is nothing, absolutely nothing. Ankara's new loyalties are to the Persians, an alliance against the Arabs, for all of Turkey's cosseting up to the Gazan Palestinians.

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