Those who viewed news reports of the supposedly successful firing of Iran’s Sajjil-2 rocket this week as an alarming development, have reasons to be worried.
The rocket’s 1200 mile range can easily penetrate both Israeli and European airspace, making it a powerful addition to the Iranian arsenal and continuing threat to the West.
Iran does not, by all reports, have enough fissile material to build a nuclear weapons; nor does it have the capacity to manufacture a nuclear warhead. No one seems able to agree when it will have these capacities or what its real intentions will be when it obtains them.
But what everyone seems to agree, is that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear power will unalterably shift the balance of power in the Middle East and send the region spiraling into a new arms race.
No one feels that heat greater than Iran’s Arab neighbors. Iran, lest we forget, is the country with the third largest number of neighbors- its land mass being separated from Europe, Africa, Central Asia and the Indian sub-continent by just a single country. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the Gulf States and Turkey – all share borders with Iran, while Jordan, Egypt and India are close enough to be regarded as kissing cousins.
None of those nations want to see Iran acquire nuclear weapons. All have a vested interested in seeing Iranian aggression curtailed and ensuring that it does not challenge Israel as a regional hegemon.
Israel? Figuring that country into the mix might seem a little anomalous. After all, there is little ostensible reason to believe that most of the aforementioned countries would lose any sleep if the Jewish state was eliminated by an Iranian nuclear attack.
But such a view betrays the Middle East’s dirty little secret: all of the so-called moderate Arab states – including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and most of the Gulf States see Israel, because of its military muscle and its strategic depth as a hedge against Iranian imperialism and territorial overreach. They understand that Iran’s theocratic regime poses a far greater danger to their existence than Israel and are surrepetitiously willing to work with the Jewish state to ensure Iran’s containment. An attack on Israel, they all understand, would essentially be an attack upon themselves.
It wouldn’t be the first time Israel has come to the aid of moderate Arab state or acted as their proxy. In 1970 the IDF saved the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan from a coup led by Yasser Arafat’s PLO. Over the years, Israel sought to prop up Christian regimes in Lebanon and has worked with Egypt to subvert the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. Like every nation state, Israel has understood that its security depends, to a certain extent, on stability on its own borders.
So now we have the rather perverse situation of the United States backing away from supporting Israel’s inevitable showdown with the menace of Iran while Arab countries in the region are gearing up for a fight, as least one fought by a surrogate.
The good news in all this might be that Israel is really not quite as isolated as is generally supposed. The bad news is that in order to effectively attack and destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, Israel will need to traverse airspace in Iraq controlled by the American military.
How absurd it would be then if Israel, with the tacit support and encouragement of its new found allies, undertakes a punitive mission against Iran only to be stymied by American resistance.
We don’t really know the extent of the secret diplomacy being undertaken by Israel with its Arab neighbors. Nor do we know the back channels that the Obama Administration might be using to prepare for a military confrontation in the Gulf. But if I was a leader of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt or the Gulf States, I would be using whatever leverage I could to cajole Washington into an understanding that when the time comes – as it inevitably must – Israel must be given a free hand to deal Iran a convincing and decisive blow.
Overlooking for the time being their own persistent cowardice and timidity, it is the very least they could do to pay back the country that is going to be doing the fighting for them and ensuring the stability of the region.