The beginning of a thaw in relations between Iran and the West is not only worrying Israel, it is also a matter of concern for Iran’s Arab neighbours.
Both Israel and several Gulf states are concerned that sanctions may be lifted without receiving clear and verifiable assurances that Iran is no longer pursuing nuclear weapons.
In addition to the worry that Iran may become a nuclear power in the not-too-distant future, a development that would drastically alter the regional balance, the kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain accuse Iran of inciting the Shia communities within their countries to rise up against their governments.
Israel’s Channel 2 reported this week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supervised a number of “intensive meetings” between Israeli and Gulf officials.
Israeli diplomats have confirmed in recent weeks that “they are even more worried than we are that the West is going soft on Iran. For them, Tehran is a close and immediate threat and we have a lot of common ground now with them.”
The ongoing civil war in Syria has thrown the Sunni-Shia divide into stark relief, with Iran emerging along with its proxy Hizbollah as Bashar al Assad’s main patrons and the Gulf states leading the way in financing and arming the rebel groups.
Dismay at the West “going soft” on Iran has been voiced in conversations between Arab leaders and President Barack Obama and found its way into Saudi-owned media. In the newspaper A-Sharq al-Awsat, one columnist wrote last week that “we do not understand why Obama decided to open the door, which had remained shut until now in the face of a regime that US presidents considered evil.”