The Arab states have opposed the Iran deal from a very early stage, seeing Iran’s regional ambitions as a direct threat. As negotiations went on, Saudi Arabia and other states were vocal and demonstrative in their protests, and warned that they, too, might seek nuclear weapons.
Then, suddenly, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that the Saudis had accepted the deal, with reservations. That is the basis for President Barack Obama’s inflammatory charge in his speech Wednesday that Israel is the only country in the region to reject the deal.
But have the Arab states really accepted the deal? It is certainly possible, given generous offers of American weaponry to smooth things over. And despite the fact that the Sunni states have developed a tacit alliance with Israel against Iran, they are still probably gratified to see Israel isolated on the world stage, abandoned by a president who repeatedly boasted he had “Israel’s back.”
However, even if the Iran deal were as great as Obama claims it is–and it is terrible–nothing about the Arab states’ fundamental interests has changed. Iran is still a deadly enemy.
Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states are playing a double game to make the best of a very bad situation. The Saudis have established that they intend to acquire nuclear capacities to match Iran’s–probably by obtaining nuclear weapons from Pakistan, whose program they financed.
Now, by playing along with Obama, they also intend to secure as much conventional weaponry and diplomatic leverage as possible. The fact that their cooperation helps Obama isolate Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu means they can demand a premium for their “help.”
In June, Israel and Saudi Araba revealed that they had participated in secret talks since the beginning of 2014. That détènte has continued, with Dore Gold, the director general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, referring last week to the Sunni states as “Israel’s allies.”
Yet the alliance is one of convenience. The Saudis may grant Israel landing and refueling assistance for an attack on Iran, but they also intend to arm themselves to the teeth–and not just against Iran.
What Obama portrays as a foreign policy success is really just a con–and he’s the patsy.