[Editor’s Note: Since the article below was written, the high level talks designed to approve the US-Iran deal have stalled because of French objections. Reportedly the talks will continue at a lower “technical” level, but for now the U.S. attempt to achieve a fait accompli deal with the Iranians is temporarily stopped. The French objections, concerning the Iranian Arak nuclear reactor and elimination of Iran’s 20% enriched nuclear fuel, is a show stopper because the Iranians will not agree to any real limit that will block their nuclear weapons program. The French move reportedly shocked the other participants –mostly the U.S., UK, Germany and Russia –forget about the Chinese who are a false player– who were looking to dump the sanctions on Iran for economic and political reasons. The U.S. can, and may, try a bilateral deal with the Iranians, but the storm is far from subsided because President Obama’s appeasement of the Iranians has little Congressional support, and even the Pentagon, now highly politicized, is wary of the deal. After all, the key Pentagon client, Saudi Arabia, on which many in the military leadership count on for their future remuneration, face losing the Saudis to other suitors, especially France. More seriously, the collapse of America’s position in the Middle East is signed, sealed and delivered by the Obama -Iran deal. The Russians meanwhile are delighted, even though the long term consequences for the Russians are dire.]
The United States has decided to cut its own deal on Iran’s nuclear program, leaving in the dust both Israel, Saudi Arabia and their neighbors including Egypt and Jordan. The U.S. already has abandoned Egypt, has cut off military aid, and has proven to be an unreliable friend. It has also abandoned Saudi Arabia, because for the Saudi state to survive it must now balance Iran’s soon-to-be demonstrated nuclear weapons threat. This process, if it can be called that, has been evolving for some time.
The Saudis, like Israel, understand the threat and have been working for many years to be able to respond. For that reason Saudi Arabia has put in place an intermediate range ballistic missile system and reportedly has contracted with Pakistan for the delivery of nuclear warheads for these missiles.
Exactly when, and if, nuclear weapons will appear in Saudi Arabia is anyone’s guess, but the US rapprochement with the Iranian regime is very far advanced and a “deal” is likely to be signed fairly quickly. At that point, sanctions on Iran will evaporate and there will be a mad rush by European governments and manufacturers to sell advanced technology to the Iranians. Europe has lots of nuclear-related and conventional weapons technology, and has been selling equipment to Iran under the table for some time, while trying not to arouse the ire of the U.S. government. Now the gloves are off, and both technology and bank credits will flow from Europe in a race to capture the Iranian market. Expect the Germans to be first in line, with the British, French and Italians just behind them. It will look like the kind of wanton transfer of technology, primarily by the Europeans, to Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Then everything went –nuclear reactors, poison gas technology, missile technology, communications and command and control equipment, systems for manufacturing nuclear and biological weapons. We are on the threshold of even bigger technology transfers to Iran.
As a result of these machinations, the U.S. has all but lost any influence it may have in the region. This was demonstrated, most clearly, by the decision of the U.S. not to enforce a Presidential “red line” on Syria and not to provide real support to Saudi Arabia in the Syrian civil war. President Assad has survived because of substantial assistance from Russia and Iran and a well armed Syrian Army and Air Force fighting against poorly equipped and disorganized foes, who sometimes fight each other. Now any settlement, if there is to be one, is in the hands of the Russians and Iranians. The U.S. will go along with whatever they cook up and will be grateful for anything that will “end” the conflict.
U.S. policy is, to say the least, incoherent. It is unprecedented that in the space of a few years the United States has managed to jettison critical relationships and surrender strategic assets that remain important to American global influence and to the American economy.
All of this leaves open what the former U.S. allies in the region plan to do in the wake of these actions.
Israel has already said it rejects the US-Iranian deal. Saudi Arabia has done the same.
Israel’s options, at the moment, are few. It can attempt to destroy Iran’s growing nuclear capability, but this will not be easy to accomplish and carries many risks.
Israel can continue to try and sabotage Iran’s nuclear program and its missile delivery systems. Unfortunately, Israel will get no help from the U.S. because the U.S. has vested itself in the Iranian deal. Nor will any help be forthcoming from the Europeans, if there ever was any. Nor will Israel get any help from Turkey, which –with the help of Washington– burned a number of Israeli agents in Iran, costing their lives. In fact, the U.S. has been leaking vital intelligence information to the chagrin of Israel’s leaders, in an attempt to undermine Netanyahu and weaken his efforts to derail the US-Iranian rapprochement. Trying to deal with the threat through Israeli covert operations, therefore, is already becoming difficult and may become nearly impossible because of U.S. objections.
Israel can also more proactively challenge Iran’s growing regional power by hitting Iran’s operations outside its borders. This type of challenge might provoke Iran to try and respond prematurely, which could lead to a conventional conflict. The U.S. can be expected to oppose all of these actions by Israel and will reject any claim by Israel that it is trying to protect its security.
Israel can also seek either covert or overt alliances.
One “alliance” that is possible, but extremely tricky, is between Israel and Saudi Arabia. There is already, some experts contend, Saudi-Israeli cooperation under the table. But there are strong ideological differences and considerable mistrust on both sides.Saudi Arabia is still sponsoring many terrorist groups who threaten Israel. Israel still has not achieved a settlement with the Palestinians, angering the Saudis. In addition, there are vast cultural differences between Israel and Saudi Arabia. These differences are serious and heavy. Even so, the most likely scenario is that Israel will provide intelligence on Iranian military activities to the Saudis, and help them understand Iranian deployments and grasp fully the Iranian nuclear infrastructure. It will, however, be more difficult for the Saudis to reciprocate.
Saudi Arabia, like Israel, knows that it cannot rely on the U.S. for protection and that security promises from Washington are no longer credible. This is the driver that sends the Saudis in a search for help. One possible source of help comes from Israel’s military and the fact that Israel already has a nuclear deterrent. How this can be “translated” and demonstrated given the political circumstances will require serious courage by Saudi leaders, more than by Israelis. A possible trigger will be whether Pakistan will, in fact, deliver the weapons the Saudis have ordered and already paid. If they are not delivered, Israel could be Saudi Arabia’s only real option. Could one anticipate a secret mutual defense pact between them?
An alternative option that Israel and the Saudis have been exploring is trying to get Russian protection. For the most part this is just a show to try and motivate American policy makers to change course. Any real deal will be very costly to both countries and will weaken them at a critical moment.
Israel most of all, but also Saudi Arabia, will face substantial pressure from the U.S. trying to take down their nuclear programs. Over the years the Israelis have never declared they have nuclear weapons. One of the likely consequences of the Iranian rapprochement will be strong Iranian demands to dismantle Israel’s nuclear arsenal. The Iranians will want American and European sanctions until the Israelis comply. Israel, of course, will not do so –but with a hostile U.S. and a hostile Europe, Israel will face new political and economic threats.
On the whole the U.S. has truncated and abandoned a security policy that has been in place since the end of the Yom Kippur war in 1973. That policy served both Democratic and Republican administrations. It is now gone. The result is a period of maximum risk and destabilization.