Saturday, May 06, 2006

Gulf Arab fears over Iran's nuclear program

Gulf Arab countries have a number of public and private concerns about the nuclear programme of their more populous neighbour Iran, which is neither Arab nor Sunni Muslim.

Here are some of them:
  • Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia, fear a resurgence of Iranian revolutionary zeal and power in the region under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This would clash with the close U.S. alliance rulers of Gulf Arab states enjoy and could politicise their Shi'ite populations.
  • If Iran's nuclear ambitions provoke U.S. military action, it will upset a region already reeling from the after-effects of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. This would strain the U.S. alliance of Gulf governments whose populations, as in the rest of the Arab world, oppose U.S. interference in the region, especially its support for Israel against the Palestinians.
  • If Iran obtains nuclear weapons there will likely be popular pressure on Gulf countries, particularly Arab heavyweight Saudi Arabia, to follow suit. This again would challenge the quietist ethos of Gulf states and their alliance with Washington.
  • Gulf Arab countries fear the environmental and economic fall-out of any U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran -- its nuclear plant at Bushehr lies directly across the narrow Gulf waterway.