According to recently released diplomatic cables, several Arab leaders have made it clear that they was worried enough about Iran’s nuclear program to want it destroyed. Israel has pointed to those cables as evidence that its focus on Iran as the major threat in the Middle East is shared with its neighbors. According to the Guardian story titled Saudi Arabia urges US attack on Iran to stop nuclear programme:
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme, according to leaked US diplomatic cables that describe how other Arab allies have secretly agitated for military action against Tehran.
That Guardian story goes on a few paragraphs later report on some interpretations of what Americans heard from King Abdullah.
The Saudi king was recorded as having “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons programme”, one cable stated. “He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the US general David Petraeus in April 2008.
The New York Times described it slightly differently in their story titled Around the World, Distress Over Iran:
But six months later it was an Arab leader, the king of Bahrain, who provides the base for the American Fifth Fleet, telling the Americans that the Iranian nuclear program “must be stopped,” according to another cable. “The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it,” he said.
His plea was shared by many of America’s Arab allies, including the powerful King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who according to another cable repeatedly implored Washington to “cut off the head of the snake” while there was still time.
As a long time amateur student of Middle Eastern politics and economics, I have a point of view that I want to introduce. Were the Arab leaders who urged attacks on Iran really worried about nuclear weapons or were they more generally concerned about Iran’s nuclear program? Though others might be discussing the distinction between the two, I have not yet found those discussions.
People who do not have dogeared copies of books like Daniel Yergin’s classic depiction of the petroleum industry history titled The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power or Robert Baer’s more recent bestseller titled Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude at close reach in their offices might not recognize that there is a good chance that Iran’s energy supply competitors are just as concerned about its growing nuclear energy expertise as about its potential to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran has been fighting within OPEC for years to be allowed to have a higher production quota. Operating nuclear plants will give it the ability to play a larger role in the international oil market, even without a larger quota. The oil that is currently consumed in domestic electricity production would be made available for export.
This worry about the implications of developing nuclear energy production on the world’s oil supply balance has been an undercurrent in US diplomacy in the Middle East since at least the early 1970s. The Shah was “our guy” in the Middle East and our relationship with the Saudi’s was at arm’s length compared to our current relationship. Though we all have relatively short memories, it is an historical fact that Iran did not participate in the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo and that Iran maintained diplomatic and commercial relationships with Israel in the face of Arab opposition up until the 1979 revolution.
Back then, one of the ways that we aimed to help maintain Iran’s strength was to assist its modernization program. That program included a well-funded effort to develop an extensive domestic nuclear energy infrastructure. That infrastructure would enable it to compete with Saudi oil production capacity. The thing that has changed the most in the world oil supply picture is that we have exhausted a much larger fraction of the earth’s stored resources and have an even greater dependence on fossil fuel for reliable energy. Countries that control oil and gas still have a vast influence on the world stage and still place a high degree of importance on maintaining that dominance in the face of all competitors.
By my way of understanding world politics, this is a far more likely explanation for the revelation that Arab elites urged near term aggressive action against their neighbor than the possibility that the neighbor would gain access to weaponry that history has shown is so difficult to employ that it has only been used two times and only when the victim had no way to respond.