Sunday, December 15, 2013

Iran as a Threat for Arab states

Dr. Ehud Eilam compares and examines present-day Iran to past ambitions in the Middle East "A breach in what was the Iraqi wall would be a cause for concern among the Arab world, particularly if Iran were to have a nuclear arsenal."
In the 1980s, Saddam Hussein’s ambitions to make Iraq a dominant power in the Middle East made him not much different than present-day Iran. Iraq was an Arab country, but it still presented a threat to its Arab neighbors, particularly those in the Gulf. However, in 1980 Saddam did not send his military south against other Arab states, as he did a decade later in 1990, but east, against their common rival, Iran; yet, that was not necessarily what the other Arab states wanted. They could have suspected that an Iraqi victory over Iran would be exploited to establish Iraq’s position in the Middle East at the expense of other Arab states, including those that supported Iraq in the war against Iran.

Still, at least for Iraq, it seemed a genuine opportunity, since in 1980 the Iranian military was badly shaken due to the purging brought about by the Islamic revolution and the rupture of its supply lines to the United States, from which many of its weapons systems came. After early successes, however, the Iraqi army was stopped and then pushed back over its borders. Iraq, and in particular Saddam, who fought to survive, described the war with Iran as a battle to protect the Arab world - one in which Iraq was the front line confronting the intimidating threat from the east. This portrayal was similar to the way in which Nazi Germany presented itself during World War II as the last bulwark, preventing Europe from being overtaken by Soviet Russia. In fact, the immediate goal of Iran in the 1980s and the Soviet Union in the 1940s was to bring down their opponents’ regime. That is why Saddam and Hitler before him wished to gather support from other nations, which, though suspicious, feared the worse of two evils (in this case Iran or the Soviets) much more.

Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia were reluctant to participate in the Iran-Iraq war and actually send in their armies, and settled for a minor contribution by assisting Iraq to bolster its war effort, thus preventing an Iraqi collapse. It was still quite a gamble because of the risk of an Iranian retaliation.

While in the mid-1990s Iraq was Iran’s main rival, these days Iraq’s future is unclear. It might be divided, even unofficially, which would allow Iran, direct access to the rest of the Arab world. This could be the start of an Iranian maneuver to encircle the Gulf. That action would be aimed at realizing dreams of a truly “Persian Gulf” - in other words, one that would be under the influence, if not the direct control, of the new Persian Empire, in much the same way as Rome saw the Mediterranean Sea as a Roman lake.

A breach in what was the Iraqi wall would therefore be a cause for concern among the Arabs, particularly if Iran possesses a nuclear arsenal. Although Iran does not need such a corridor inside Iraq in order to use such a weapon, the combination of the two would increase its might. The palpable dread arising from such a development could push Arab states in the Gulf to seek a nuclear weapon and/or the protection of the United States.

This article is based on an article that was published in the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs (Volume Two Number Two, 2008).

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