Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, former Ambassador to the U.S., was a target of a failed bombing plot by the Iran’s Quds force at a Washington restaurant. He was at the State Department yesterday in preparation for a meeting with President Obama today regarding the Kingdom’s concerns about the announced nuclear pact with Iran.
The White House committed a faux pas on announcement of the Iran nuclear deal when it first suggested that the Quds force commander, General Qassem Suleymani, was not on a list of 700 Iranians whose travel bans and asset restrictions were lifted. General Suleymani had been deemed responsible for hundreds of U.S. Service personnel casualties during the Iraq War and now is involved with advising Iraqi Shiite militias fighting ISIS. The Iran FARS news agency and ABC News both confirmed that the legendary head of the Quds Force was indeed on the list. We trust that President Obama will apologize when he meets with Foreign Minister al-Jubeir today. A Wall Street Journal report set the stage for today’s meeting:
Saudi Arabia is the largest of the Arab states that have been deeply skeptical of Mr. Obama’s diplomatic outreach to Iran.
The Saudis have been deeply worried about the Iran agreement; both because of fears it won’t stop the Iranian nuclear program and because of broader concerns that it will allow Iran to grow as a regional power when it receives the financial windfall from the end of sanctions under the accord.
The Sunni Saudi government already is locked in a proxy battle with Iranian allies in neighboring Yemen. The Iran-backed Houthi rebels overran Yemen’s capital earlier this year and were targeted by a Saudi airstrike campaign backed by the U.S. In addition, Shiite-led Iran is the most important backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; Saudi Arabia is committed to his removal.
However, there is the overarching issue of Saudi Arabia and other Middle East Sunni countries opting to secure their own nuclear infrastructure and weapons. A WSJ op ed in today’s edition by Karen Elliot House, former publisher and Pulitzer Prize winner for her coverage of the Middle East, addressed what many observers belief is a potential nuclear Pandora’s Box, “Obama Pours Gas on the Mideast Fire”:
The short subdued statement this week by Riyadh’s embassy in Washington again calling for “strict sustainable” inspections speaks volumes about the kingdom’s precarious position and the lack of good options.
A final option open to the Saudis: Get a nuclear weapon as soon as possible. Prince Turki al Faisal, the kingdom’s former head of intelligence vowed in the spring that “whatever the Iranians have, we will have.”
The nuclear deal with Iran will stoke more Sunni-Shiite violence, and the Saudis may go shopping for nukes.
On Tuesday, July 14, 2015, a Middle East Roundtable discussion was convened by Northwest Florida’s Talk Radio 1330 AM WEBY’s co-hosts of “Your Turn,” Mike Bates and this writer. Our panelists were Omri Ceren, Managing Director for Press and Strategy of The Israel Project (TIP) and Shoshana Bryen, Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center. Bryen was calling in from Washington, D.C. Ceren was calling in from Vienna, Austria where he had spent 19 days working with journalists covering the final deliberations of the nuclear pact with Iran. Ceren had also been in Lausanne, Switzerland covering the April 2nd announcement of a framework for a final JPOA. The following is an excerpt from a forthcoming August 2015 New English Review article on the Iran nuclear agreement based on the radio panel discussion. This excerpt reveals the dangers that could result should nuclear proliferation spread in the Middle East, beginning with Saudi Arabia. The arguments presented here are the opinions of Ceren and not necessarily those of TIP.
Jerry Gordon: What is the risk in this region that non-proliferation ends and the opposite occurs? Is this the opening of a Pandora’s Box?
Omri Ceren: Not just the obvious, but the well nigh undeniable. We talked earlier of what a lot is dangerous about this Administration’s communications with American lawmakers and the American public is that they just don’t tell the truth. They make excuses for Iranian cheating. But another aspect that has been widely remarked upon is they say insulting things in order to defend their policies. One great example is their answers to the potential that Saudi Arabia will respond to a bad deal by going nuclear. Let’s be clear, Saudi Arabia will respond to a bad deal by going nuclear. They have not been bashful and have told us in as many words that they will not wait to gain their own nuclear capabilities till the Iranians get a nuclear bomb. They’ve said that they will respond with their own infrastructure when they believe that it is now inevitable that they will get a nuclear bomb. And they have said that this deal makes it inevitable that Iran gets its nuclear bomb, which is correct. You then have these very clear declarations from a traditional American ally that sits in the center of the world’s energy markets that they intend to go nuclear in response to this deal. If they go nuclear then the entire deal is trashed because there is no chance that the Iranian military will permit the Sunnis to get a bomb without their having a nuclear bomb. They will respond by backing out of the deal. Now obviously this is a worst case scenario for the White House. Yesterday, you were in a world where you had no deal and no Iranian bomb. Now you have a deal and you may have an Iranian bomb. What have been their responses? I don’t want to overemphasize this but it is difficult not notice that we have a scenario that will trash everything that the Administration has hoped to create, all costs and no benefits. What is their answer? They say two things about the Saudis. One is that the Saudis lack the resources to go nuclear which is insane given the example of North Korea and given what we know about Saudi Arabia’s GDP and how they allocate their resources. The second is what one of the top hands at the NSC wrote in a pamphlet was that the Saudis will never go nuclear because they are afraid of an international oil embargo. I’m sorry but that is not a sophisticated argument. The entire success of the deal and the potential that the deal will fail could leave an entire nuclear Middle East in its wake.
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EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.