Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Israel’s Unlikely Allies

The fear of Iran and its nuclear ambitions has created some very unlikely and almost never openly discussed allies. Israel and the Gulf Arab states are linked, like it or not, by the shared fears over Iran's nuclear program.

While their disagreements over the Palestinians block any open alliances, the recent warnings from Israel and the West about not ruling out attacks against Iran invariably draw in the Gulf and a rare meeting of minds with Jerusalem.

The Gulf States, a cornerstone for U.S. diplomatic and military pressure on Iran, are indispensable parts of any effort to confront Tehran's nuclear ambitions. And even Israel, which has no direct diplomatic outreach to the Gulf, is has been brought into the Gulf-centric policymaking with U.S. envoys acting as go-betweens.

It's part of a complicated mix of mutual worries and divergent risks -- the Gulf, unlike Israel, has critical commercial and diplomatic ties with Iran -- that puts Washington in the middle as the common ally and chief Western architect of pressure tactics on Iran.

Look for the next moves after the UN nuclear watchdog agency releases an intelligence report this week to its 35 board members. Early leaks from diplomats suggest the document will indicate Iran has made computer models of a nuclear warhead and conducted other weapons-related work, which would strongly reinforce suspicions that Iran is working toward atomic weapons.

Iran denies it seeks to develop nuclear arms and claims its program, including uranium enrichment labs, is only for energy and research.

For the moment, the speculation of an increased threat of military strikes is based on tougher comments by Israel and the West in advance of this IAEA report. An important aspect to remember in all of this are the Wikileak leaks several months ago of a Saudi diplomatic cable in which a high ranking Saudi talks about it being time for Israel to stike at Iran and "cut the head off the snake" (this cable may very well have been one of the reasons behind the attempt to hire an assasination of the Saudi Ambassador in Washington DC last month). There have also been reliable reports that the Saudi government has given approval to the Israelis to fly over Saudi air space for such a strike.

In the latest statement, Israeli President Shimon Peres said "the possibility of a military strike on Iran is more likely to be realized than the diplomatic option." "It appears that Iran is getting closer to obtaining nuclear weapons," he said in comments published in the newspaper Yisrael Hayom.

There is no apparent buildup or operational changes at bases in the region, which for the United States include air wings scattered across the Gulf and the 5th Fleet naval hub in Bahrain. U.S. military planners say they could shift at least 4,000 soldiers to Kuwait after next month's withdrawal from Iraq as part of efforts to boost an already strong Pentagon presence in the Gulf.

Any scenario is likely to shed greater light on common ground between Israel and the Gulf states over how to further isolate and intimidate Iran.

Live Long and Prosper.....

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