US President Bush in Israel: the Peace Process and Iran

Update from AIJAC

January 11, 2008

Number 01/08 #03
As identified in the previous Update, the two issues at the top of US President George Bush’s agenda for his visit to Israel and the Middle East are the Israel-Palestinian peace process and the Iranian threat. This Update continues to focus on these two issues, highlighting recommendations to the US and Israeli leaders and summarising the state of play of efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
First is a “memo” from former US peace negotiator Dennis Ross on the peace process. Recognising that the Israeli and Palestinian publics are sceptical of the other’s ability to implement an agreement, despite well-intentioned leadership, Ross argues for focusing on small, tangible steps that the two sides can actually implement. Specifically, he recommends Bush ask Israel to implement a “meaningful” freeze in settlement activity particularly close to Palestinian-inhabited areas, while the Palestinian side should be asked to root out incitement in Palestinian schools, media and mosques. Ross also recommends increased security cooperation between the two parties. For the full article, CLICK HERE.
Next up is former Australian Jewish community leader Isi Leibler, now living in Israel. Leibler argues that Bush has shown himself to be a true friend of Israel, but urges Israeli PM Ehud Olmert to tell Bush that a successful outcome to the conflict is not currently likely and that raising false expectations could be counterproductive. More specifically, Leibler argues that the peace process cannot be successful unless Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas takes steps against terrorists, including some members of Fatah, and that Israel should not be pressured into further concessions until this has been done. He also asks Olmert to remind Bush of the issue of Palestinian incitement and its negative effects on the prospects for peace. For Leibler’s full analysis, CLICK HERE.
Finally, turning to the Iranian issue, the Middle East Media Research Institute’s (MEMRI) Y. Yehoshua, I. Rapoport, Y. Mansharof, and Y. Carmon with A. Savyon of the Iranian Media Project have co-written a detailed analysis of the faltering anti-Iranian coalition of Sunni Arab Gulf states. The coalition to combat what was seen as an attempt by the Persian state to influence the Arab world was spearheaded by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Gulf states. But the release of the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) claiming Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, and the decision by Qatar to invite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to attend the summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Doha held six weeks ago without consulting the other Council members, played a role in fracturing the Sunni Gulf states’ stance. The NIE report and the Doha invitation have been perceived in Teheran as significant diplomatic victories in its ongoing push to be a regional power, and to force the Gulf states to recognise it as such. To read this, CLICK HERE.
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Baby Steps: What’s needed in the Middle East now is not the grand gesture, but the small, easy-to-build-upon initiative

Dennis Ross

The New Republic, Jan. 8, 2008
To: President George W. Bush

Dennis Ross

Subject: This week’s visit with the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority
Mr. President, no doubt you have received many briefings on this topic, but having negotiated with everybody you will be seeing this week and having just returned from the area, I would like to convey a few impressions that I hope will be of use to you.
First, it is good that you are going and are committed to trying to achieve a peace agreement before the end of your term. Seven years without a peace process has taken a toll on the psyches and expectations of Israelis and Palestinians alike. Cynicism is high, and the belief in peacemaking is very low. Annapolis, while promising a new beginning, was greeted by Israeli and Palestinian publics with profound skepticism. They have seen words and declarations before. They need to see something tangible if they are to believe again in the promise of peace.
Second, the expectations for your trip are not high; that’s fine, but should not be used as an excuse to do nothing. Already the two sides are falling into a familiar pattern of using their negotiating forum to complain about the failings of the other, not to engage in problem-solving. If nothing else, your trip might be used to focus on a series of small-bore initiatives so some early signs of progress might become possible.
Third, the best thing you have going is that the two leaders–Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas–have developed a real chemistry between them. The worst thing is that they are both relatively weak politically. In my experience, weak leaders don’t typically take on history and mythology. And, yet, when you are asking them to resolve Jerusalem, refugees, borders, and security–the core issues of the conflict, the issues that go to the heart of self-definition and identity–that is precisely what you are asking them to do.
Maybe they will do so anyway. They certainly have good intentions–but I worry about their capabilities. At Annapolis, the joint understanding you read avoided anything controversial since neither side wanted to be seen as conceding anything. The purpose of Annapolis was to launch negotiations, and right now those negotiations don’t even have an agreed set of principles guiding them. So the question becomes: How can you persuade the leaders to overcome the fears that have constrained them from making the concessions you’ve asked for up to this point–concessions, I might add, which if a permanent status agreement is to be reached this year, would be the hardest any Israeli or Palestinian leader has ever had to make?
My answer would be that the public context must change. Both the Israeli and Palestinian publics have to be willing to take a second look at peacemaking. Today, their doubts overwhelm their hopes. A majority of Israelis and Palestinians say they believe in a two-state solution, and in almost equal numbers, they say they don’t believe it will ever be achieved–not, by the way, because of their own unwillingness, but because of what they perceive as the inability or ill will of their neighbor.
Israelis say, “We left Lebanon, and look what happened. We left Gaza and Hamas took over. Not for a single day has rocket fire ceased. Why wouldn’t the same thing happen in the West Bank, leaving our entire population vulnerable?” Palestinians say, “Israelis build settlements in what should be our state and restrict our movement. If we can’t go from Nablus to Jenin, why should we think we will get any of Jerusalem as our capital?”
I don’t say this to argue against the effort. I support it. But I hope you will see that it is not enough simply to launch a process. There has to be a strategy to guide it. And it won’t come from saying that we will be the monitor and judge of each side fulfilling its obligations to the roadmap to peace. Not only are there no obligations understood the same way by the two sides–meaning that there is no agreed basis upon which to judge whether a requirement has been fulfilled–but also some of the obligations are simply beyond the capacity or instinct of either side to carry out. Palestinians today have neither the means nor the will to begin to dismantle terror infrastructure. Israelis will not withdraw to the security positions they had at the beginning of the intifada in the fall of 2000–they see their current integrated security system as preventing bombs from going off in Israel.
Exhortations won’t produce a change in behavior either. Nor will whitewashing the obligations or explaining away non-performance. Instead, why not ask each side to take steps they are capable of taking and that could still be meaningful to the other side? For example, on the Israeli side, a meaningful freeze on settlement activity–certainly in all areas close to Palestinian cities, towns, and villages–is within Israeli political capabilities and would be recognized by Palestinians. On the Palestinian side, a sustained and public effort to stop incitement in the media, schools, and mosques, is something Palestinians could do and that the Israeli public would notice.
Since the security issues cannot be wished away and won’t come from abstract plans, why not re-establish a joint Israeli-Palestinian security working group to develop a clear plan for dealing with Palestinian security responsibilities, like preventing terror and punishing those who would try to carry it out? The plan could be implemented incrementally, and if Palestinians were performing effectively on their agreed responsibilities, they would gain enhanced freedom of movement. Maybe such an approach could also restore the faith of the Israeli military in the readiness of Palestinians to assume security responsibilities, not just security slogans.
Mr. President, you may feel this is all very mundane and that you want to focus more on vision than on nuts and bolts. That’s fine, but you won’t get to a peace agreement if you don’t restore the faith of the Israeli and Palestinian publics in peace-making. The conflict is so awash with cynicism and distrust that absent a specific, grind-it-out approach, I fear that the two leaders–notwithstanding their obvious sincerity–will be unable to take a historic leap. So, Mr. President, use your trip to ask each side to provide their own suggestions about what they can do that they think will be meaningful to the public of the other side. And ask them whether there are joint steps they can take on security. And, finally, ask them how they can be convinced to deal with the core issues of the conflict. By doing this, you can give the process you launched at Annapolis its best chance. It may, in fact, be your last one before the momentum you hoped to create is lost.
Dennis Ross is counsellor and Ziegler distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of Statecraft: And How to Restore America’s Standing in the World.

When nothing but bluntness will do

Isi Leibler
The Jerusalem Post, Jan. 9, 2008
Prime Minister Olmert has announced that in the course of his meetings with President George W. Bush, besides discussing Iran, he intends to reassure the president that Israel will remain highly flexible and make every effort to enhance the status of our “peace partner,” Mahmoud Abbas.

Such a message would be utterly inappropriate. Now is the time for our prime minister to speak the truth to President Bush. He should alert him that under current circumstances, no meaningful outcome from our negotiations with the Palestinians is likely, and that raising false expectations could be highly counterproductive.

President Bush is a true friend of Israel. In contrast to his predecessors, once he recognized the evil and duplicitous nature of Yasser Arafat, he severed relations and effectively marginalized him. He also brought to an end the era of moral equivalency during which Palestinian murderers and Israeli victims were both regarded as equal components of a senseless cycle of violence. In addition, Bush endorsed Israel’s right to defensible borders and became the first Western leader to state that when boundaries are finalized, demographic facts on the ground will need to be taken into account – a clear endorsement for Israeli retention of the major settlement blocs. And at Annapolis, despite all its ambivalences, the president unequivocally reiterated that Israel is a “Jewish state,” bluntly contradicting the Palestinians, who vowed that they would never come to terms with a Jewish entity.

Indeed, unless the White House reverses these policies, history will judge President Bush as the most pro-Israeli president to date, a leader who resisted pressures from many of his allies to appease the Palestinians and courageously maintained a principled approach toward the Jewish state.

REGRETTABLY, over the past year there have been ominous indications that the State Department has begun tilting its policy against Israel and reverting to its former failed strategy of appeasement.
The offensive remarks recently expressed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, comparing Palestinian suffering with the discrimination she as an African-American underwent from white supremacists, exemplify a new confrontational stance. She has also been adopting language reminiscent of moral equivalency, implying that both parties to the conflict are equally culpable.
The atmosphere became further strained when, on the eve of the Presidential visit, Rice described Jewish suburbs of east Jerusalem – specifically mentioning Har Homa – as “settlements.” With Olmert having impulsively ceded to the Americans the role of determining adherence to the road map, a real confrontation with the US is looming.
In a similar vein, the brutal pressures exerted over the past year by Rice against Israel have, for the first time, led to a questioning of her role as an honest broker. This followed a series of tough demands on Israel to “ease the suffering of the Palestinians” by making further unilateral concessions which impacted disastrously on Israel’s security.
The most glaring example was the insistence that Israel give up the Philadelphi Corridor, which enabled the flood of armaments into Gaza from Egypt. But even as the arms continued to pour in, Rice demanded that Israel reduce checkpoints, release terrorists and provide arms to PA security forces, arms that were subsequently employed against Israelis.
These actions have already resulted in the murder of innocent Israeli civilians, and will inevitably lead to more bloodshed.
SOME OF these disastrous changes may have been avoided had the Israeli government displayed a modicum of resistance to the initial American pressures. Regrettably, Israel frequently anticipated and even exceeded American demands.
For example, it was Prime Minister Olmert, not the Americans, who dispensed with the road map requirement that the terrorist militias be dissolved before the commencement of final status negotiations. It was Israel which requested that Congress waive conditions it intended imposing in relation to financial aid to the PA.
Public support for Israel may be at a peak in the US, but one cannot expect the US administration to be more supportive of Israel’s security requirements than its own government.
Were it anyone other than Ehud Olmert, one would expect the prime minister of Israel to urge President Bush to uphold the fundamental principles relating to fighting terror and Islamic fundamentalism which he has promoted over the years. Instead of groveling to illusionary peace partners and automatically succumbing to every American demand, our prime minister should appeal to the president to frustrate State Department initiatives designed to make Israel a sacrificial lamb to compensate for the “bigger picture.”
President Bush should be reminded that the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria is not the by-product of an Israeli invasion but the response to an Arab invasion designed to wipe Israel off the map. Even so, the majority of Israelis would today support the creation of a Palestinian state; but certainly not an extended Hamastan.
OUR PRIME minister must surely urge President Bush to demand that the Palestinians now confront reality. In recent weeks, three young Israelis have been brutally murdered by members of the Fatah militia under the control of Abbas. Surely President Bush will appreciate that if, under such circumstances, Israel continues making unilateral concessions, all the wrong messages will be conveyed to the Palestinians. If there is to be a serious process, President Bush must demand that Abbas now substitute action for his duplicitous words and belatedly dismantle the terrorist militias under his jurisdiction.
The president should also be reminded that vicious incitement against Israel continues unabated at every level of Palestinian society. And that it is unconscionable to demand that Israel collaborate in creating a state under whose jurisdiction, shaheeds (suicide bombers) will continue to be sanctified and their families compensated with state pensions. Not to mention an educational system which encourages Palestinian children to accept martyrdom while killing Jews as a noble sacrifice.
Above all, our prime minister should impress upon President Bush that before Israel considers further concessions in the framework of a final status agreement, the Palestinians must come to terms with Israel as a Jewish state. Having recently proclaimed that he would not renege on this issue, it is surely outrageous for Prime Minister Olmert to now publicly proclaim that he is satisfied because he “thinks” that Abbas “accepts Israel in his soul.” So long as the Palestinians persist with their so-called Arab right of return, they are effectively proclaiming that they will never reconcile themselves to coexisting with Jewish sovereignty. That remains the source of the conflict.
PRESIDENT BUSH must now take a public stand. He would demonstrate that he is no lame duck by bluntly telling Abbas the truth, insisting that if he remains either unwilling or unable to undertake steps to curb terrorism and incitement, he can no longer qualify as a peace partner.
=46inally, President Bush should be reminded of his repeated declarations warning that the appeasement of jihadism has in every instance only served to embolden terrorists everywhere. Appeasement not only contradicts the president’s own agenda and threatens to destroy his legacy, it also symbolizes a violation of all that our civilization represents.
The writer is a veteran international Jewish leader.

The Collapse of the Saudi Sunni Bloc against Iran’s Aspirations for Regional Hegemony in the Gulf

Y. Yehoshua, I. Rapoport, Y. Mansharof, A. Savyon and Y. Carmon*
Inquiry and Analysis Series – No. 416
Jan. 11, 2008
The Disintegration of the Saudi Sunni Bloc
For the past two years, the Gulf states have been part of a Sunni bloc established by Saudi Arabia to counter Iran’s aspirations for regional hegemony. During this period, Saudi Arabia made efforts to distance Iran from “Arab affairs,” while the Gulf states were already in political conflict with Iran over the issue of the three islands (Greater and Lesser Tunb, and Abu Moussa) that Iran had forcefully seized from the UAE in 1971, and following recent statements by senior Iranian leaders threatening Bahrain’s sovereignty. [1] Some in Saudi Arabia even called on the Gulf states to form a military alliance against Iran. [2] This Gulf policy vis-=88-vis Iran was in line with U.S. efforts to isolate it in both the regional and the international arenas.
Qatar is the only Gulf state that has refrained from cooperating with the Saudi-Gulf bloc. In fact, for the past decade, it has consistently taken an anti-Saudi line, and has allied itself with the opposing Iranian-Syrian axis. As part of this axis, it supported Hizbullah in the U.N. Security Council by working to block Resolution 1701, and, unlike other GCC states, it refrained from condemning the Hamas takeover of Gaza. Qatar also made efforts to prevent the isolation of Syria by being the only Arab country to abstain in the vote over Security Council Resolution 1737 that would establish an international tribunal for the Al-Hariri assassination. In addition, the Qatari government TV station Al-Jazeera consistently attacked Saudi Arabia and supported Iran and Syria, as well as their proxies Hizbullah and Hamas.

The Saudi-Gulf bloc collapsed about six weeks ago when Qatar, in an unprecedented move and without consulting the other Gulf states, invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to attend the summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Doha. (The Saudi magazine Al-Majalla called this collapse “the end of the American game.” [3] ) The Gulf states, surprised but acquiescent, accepted this Iranian-Qatari dictate, albeit grudgingly – despite the fact that Iran had not made any placatory statements regarding its nuclear program, the issue of the three islands, or the threats recently made by Iranian leaders against Bahrain.

The disintegration of the bloc was also the result of two additional factors. The first was the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate report, released by President Bush during the GCC summit, which assessed that Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program. The report, which lifted the threat of an American military attack on Iran, was publicly seen as an Iranian victory, and allowed Iran to take a more aggressive political tack vis-=88-vis the Gulf states. As part of this, Ahmadinejad presented at the GCC summit a 12-point program of Iranian-Gulf economic and military cooperation.

The second factor contributing to the collapse of the bloc was the growing concern in the Gulf that the very publication of the NIE report, as well as the U.S.-Iran negotiations over the Iraqi issue, indicated a shift in U.S. policy towards an understanding with Iran, which would come at the expense of the Gulf states’ interests.
Though the Gulf states responded coolly to Ahmadinejad’s proposals at the summit, and though they protested that, in his speech, he had failed to allay their concerns over Iran’s aspirations for regional hegemony, and had referred to the Gulf as “Persian” rather than “Arabian,” the Iranian president did manage to achieve his aim; at the summit, several senior Gulf officials spoke of strengthening relations with Iran.
The American reaction to the collapse of the Saudi-Gulf bloc was to dispatch U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to the Gulf for an immediate visit, during which he repeated his call to the Gulf states to unite and to force Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment.
The Saudi reaction to the collapse, on the other hand, was hesitant and unclear. By inviting Ahmadinejad to the summit, Qatar had breached its agreement with Saudi Arabia to refrain from steps that go against the consensus within the Arab League. [4] But despite this, Saudi =46oreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal expressed support for the invitation; moreover, following the summit, Saudi King ‘Abdallah invited Ahmadinejad to attend the Hajj ceremonies in Mecca. The only Saudi criticism of Ahmadinejad’s invitation to the GCC summit came from the editor of the Saudi pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Tariq Alhomayed. [5]
The collapse of the Saudi-Gulf bloc did not change the Gulf states’ position towards the U.S. Nor can Iran attain real hegemony over the region at the present time, due to its precarious economic situation, and due to the fact that the Gulf states’ governments are predominantly Arab and Sunni. Nevertheless, spokesmen for the Iranian regime have capitalized on the events of the past two months, presenting them as a historic turning point in Iran-Gulf relations, as a change in the political power balance in the Gulf, and as a significant achievement of Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy, which, they said, had proven that Iran cannot be isolated in either the regional or the international arena.
The disintegration of the Saudi-Gulf front may impact the future willingness of the Gulf states to be part of a pro-American front in the region. Voices in the Gulf have expressed concern over the inconsistency of U.S. policy, and have questioned whether the Gulf states can rely on the defense of the U.S., suggesting that these states should have an independent policy towards Iran, rather than being aligned solely with the U.S. [6]
The Qatari Role in the Collapse of the Saudi-Gulf Bloc
Qatar and Iran attempted to obscure the circumstances of Ahmadinejad’s invitation to the GCC summit, but it soon became clear that the invitation had been extended by Qatar in response to a request by Iran, and without consulting the rest of the Gulf states. During the first day of the summit, Ahmadinejad said at a press conference that he had come on an official invitation by Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Aal Thani, and added: “What difference does it make if one requests to be present [at the summit] or if one receives an invitation? The important thing is that we are here and that we are taking part in the summit.” [7]
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim bin Jaber Aal Thani said that the invitation had been extended “as part of the effort to conduct a constructive dialogue with an important neighbor,” and that forging stable relations with Iran would serve the interests of the Gulf states. [8] He added: “I do not believe that we can solve our problems by cutting Iran off from the region, since it is an important player.” [9]
Throughout the summit, Qatar continued its effort to moderate the furious reactions of some Gulf states to Ahmadinejad’s invitation. To allay the anger of the UAE leaders, Qatar arranged a meeting between the UAE president and his Iranian counterpart, as well as between the foreign ministers of the two countries. [10] Furthermore, Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasim defended Ahmadinejad’s use of the term “Persian Gulf” rather than “Arabian Gulf” in his speech at the GCC summit, stating that “the Arabian Gulf has historically been called ‘the Persian Gulf,’ ‘the Arabian Gulf’ being a modern term.” [11]
The Qatari media also published articles in praise of the invitation. =46or example, columnist Fawwaz Al-‘Ajmi wrote in the Qatari daily Al-Sharq: “The invitation to the Iranian president=C9 was a timely, wise and sensible [move]=C9 since Iran is a neighboring Muslim country, and the wellbeing and prosperity of its Muslim people has a positive impact on the peoples of the Gulf states=C9 [We] have the same enemy, and our goal must also be the same=C9 Moreover, Iran’s vigor is its neighbors’ [economic] vigor, and its military power must support and complement that of its brothers in the Gulf=C9” [12]
The rest of the Gulf states acquiesced to Qatar’s dictate, as evident from the official statements issued Gulf officials. Bahraini Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Aal Khalifa spoke of “Gulf-Iran rapprochement=C9 which strengthens the security in the region and enhances its stability.” [13] Omani Foreign Minister Yousef bin ‘Alawi bin ‘Abdallah, during his visit to Iran, spoke about “a new chapter in cooperation between Iran and the GCC states.” [14]
GCC Secretary-General ‘Abd Al-Rahman bin Hamed Al-‘Atiyya likewise made favorable remarks about the latest developments, stating that the Gulf states would like to “dissociate the military aspect” from Iran’s nuclear issue, and that the GCC was seeking solutions that would lead to security and stability, as well as to dialogue as a means of resolving the crisis.” [15] Al-‘Atiyya further stated that Ahmadinejad’s invitation to the Hajj ceremony pointed to a “genuine desire” on the part of the Gulf states “to strengthen Islamic solidarity.” [16]
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal likewise expressed no reservations about the invitation, pointing out that the country hosting [the summit] was free to invite whomever it wished. [17] However, when asked to comment on the suggestions made by Ahmadinejad at the summit, Al-Faisal was more circumspect, observing that while they were conducive to economic cooperation in the region, “other issues which have remained unsolved must also be taken into consideration, [including] Iran’s nuclear dossier and the UAE islands currently under Iranian occupation – since these are important issues that form the basis for economic collaboration and [general] cooperation between Iran and the GCC states.” [18]
In contrast to the statements made by the Gulf officials, the Gulf media published numerous reports of dissatisfaction with Qatar’s moves. Al-Siyassa reported that the majority of Gulf leaders were not happy with the Iranian president’s appearance at the summit, seeing his invitation as a Qatari attempt to strengthen its ties with Iran at the expense of other Gulf states. [19] The Foreign Minister of a Gulf state told the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: “No one consulted with us=C9 We found out about [the invitation] from the media.” He added that, in the Gulf, there were reservations concerning Ahmadinejad’s participation, “especially since it had been decided without any preliminary inter-Gulf coordination.” [20] Kuwaiti MP Khudhayr Al-‘Anzi told Al-Arabiya TV that Ahmadinejad’s presence at the summit had been “a manipulation that had served Ahmadinejad himself,” and that “[Ahmadinejad’s] speeches about the Persian Gulf were seen as a provocation.” [21] In a similar vein, a Bahraini diplomat told the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa that it was the UAE leaders who were most outraged by Ahmadinejad’s presence at the summit, in light of the conflict over Iran’s occupation of the three islands. [22]
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported that, following the controversy over the Iranian president’s invitation, a closed session had been held during the summit over the need for an official body that would be in charge of inviting heads of state to future Gulf summits. [23]
Kuwaiti columnist Nasser Al-‘Utaibi wrote in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa that Iran’s intentions were not clear and that it was not to be trusted: “=C9We can still feel the duplicity of Iran’s political message. Ahmadinejad, in his speech [at the summit], unjustifiably repeated [the term] ‘the Persian Gulf.’ In addition, he did not mention the issue of the [three] islands belonging to UAE which are still under Iran’s occupation=C9 The issue of Iran’s nuclear program still remains unclear. We cannot understand why a country rich in oil and natural gas would insist on a nuclear program, while having enormous energy sources at its disposal=C9 Is it trying to [develop] a weapon, in order to control the Arab Gulf states? Is it trying to blackmail the small Gulf states into submitting to its claims and its policy, as well as its religious, political, ideological and practical extremism?…” [24]
The Role of the NIE Report in the Collapse of the Saudi-Gulf Bloc
The NIE report, in addition to being perceived as a significant Iranian victory, removed the threat of a U.S. military attack on Iran, giving rise to concerns in the Gulf that the report could herald a U.S.-Iranian understanding which would compromise the safety of the Gulf states.
Columnist Mazen Hammad wrote in the Qatari daily Al-Watan: “It is clear that there has been an unprecedented breakthrough in the relations between Iran and the Arab states… This breakthrough was made possible by the decrease of international pressure on Iran, which came after the NIE exonerated [Iran] of striving to develop nuclear weapons… Many think that this exoneration supplies the Gulf states and Egypt with the excuse they need in order to improve their relations with Teheran… The Gulf states would not have given Iran all this attention… had they not been convinced that these steps [i.e. the NIE report] were meant to prepare the ground for dialogue between Iran and the U.S.” [25]
The deputy editor of the Bahraini daily Akhbar Al-Khaleej, Al-Sayyed Zahra, asked why the Gulf states had changed their attitude towards Iran when the latter had not changed its policies at all. He presented an analysis which suggested that the NIE report was one of the reasons for this development:
“What new development caused the change in Arab-Iranian relations? On what basis has it occurred?… As usual, the Arab governments are giving us, the Arab citizens, no explanations… Therefore, we have no option but to review the assessments of the various analysts and of others who are following this matter…
“After the publication of the report by the NIE report… the Arab states assessed that the time was ripe for greater rapprochement with Iran and for greater openness [towards it]… The Arab governments assessed that the publication of the [NIE] report might indicate a possible change in U.S. policy towards Iran, and this naturally led to greater openness towards this country on the part of the Arabs.”
Zahra expressed a concern that future U.S.-Iran dialogue may come at the expense of the Gulf states’ interests:
“We now see America wooing Iran and invoking the option of diplomatic dialogue [with it], and perhaps even more than that – an agreement that would resolve the crisis. What exactly is behind these [new] positions and moves? And what are the Arabs’ interests in this [situation]?… Is it conceivable that, within a couple of days, Iran’s position and role in Iraq has changed so radically? Is it conceivable that, within a couple of days, Iran has gone from being one of [the forces] that arm and support the militias [in Iraq] to being [a force] that restrains [these militias] and helps to stabilize the region? Of course it is inconceivable.” [26]

Iran Celebrates Its Achievement
Iranian leaders boasted of recent steps taken by Iran to improve relations with the Gulf states, speaking of “a new age of cooperation” and of “a great leap” in Iran-Gulf relations. [27] President Ahmadinejad stated in a recent speech: “I hope that this new process [of Gulf-Iran rapprochement] will expand, benefiting the peoples of the region and keeping the enemies away from it… Iran has already announced that its participation in the GCC summit marks the dawning of a new age in inter-region relations…” [28]
Iranian officials stressed that Iran-Gulf rapprochement was a strategic goal of Iran’s. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini stated in his weekly press briefing that cooperation with the Gulf states was a top priority in Iran’s foreign policy, saying: “Stronger ties [between Iran and the Gulf states] spell more security, peace, stability and quiet for the Gulf states.” [29] Supreme National Security Council Secretary Said Al-Jalili said during a visit of the ‘Omani foreign minister to Iran that “a Gulf of friendship” was not just a slogan but an Iranian strategic outlook. [30]
The Iranian daily Kayhan, which is close to Iranian Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, stated in its December 4, 2007 editorial: “The invitation of Ahmadinejad to attend the GCC summit… as a special guest conveys two very important messages to the U.S. and the West. [Firstly, it indicates that] the isolation of Iran is impossible. Secondly, [it indicates that] America’s effort to form a united Arab front against Iran has failed… Did the Annapolis circus [manage to] bring about Iran’s isolation? Did the Arab states join America’s coalition against Iran?… Ahmadinejad’s participation in the Doha summit… was a clear sign that America’s attempt to divide the countries of the region had failed. We cannot rule out [the possibility] that America will continue to make every effort to harm and isolate Iran, but it will never be able to prevent the emergence of Iran as a symbol of Muslim strength in the Middle East and the world. The path of hostility towards Iran is becoming narrower every day.” [31]
Iranian sources also stated that Iran was emerging as a regional power, and was being recognized as such by its Sunni Arab neighbors. The head of the political bureau of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Yadallah Javani, wrote in the weekly Sobh-e Sadeq, the mouthpiece of Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei circulated among the IRGC: “Iran’s political handling of its nuclear [program] presents a new model of nuclear [progress] to the countries of the region. Some of the Arab countries in the Persian Gulf are officially announcing that they wish to use nuclear power… Iran [hereby] declares that it is willing to extend any kind of assistance in order to help in the advancement of the Muslim states, especially in the [Gulf] region… In these [new] circumstances, the summit of the GCC – founded 27 years ago with the aim of confronting Iran – feels that a productive relationship with Iran is the best way to safeguard the interests of its member-states, and to guarantee the strategic security of the Persian Gulf…”
“Iran’s participation in the summit, for the first time in the history of the GCC, is a turning point in the [history of] the Persian Gulf… The repeated failures of America’s Middle East policy have led the region to a new stage… An Islamic Middle East is becoming a reality. America’s power in the region is fading… and the age of the American empire in the Middle East is ending. In parallel to these developments, Iran’s power is growing… so that everyone [now] sees it as the leading power in the Middle East. Iran’s entry into the nuclear club… changes the [power] balance in the Middle East…” [32]
*Y. Yehoshua is Director of Research at MEMRI; I. Rapoport and Y. Mansharof are research fellows at MEMRI; A. Savyon is Director of the Iranian Media Project; Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI
[1] Resentment towards Iran, especially over its “interference in Arab affairs,” was expressed on several occasions by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal. In a March 2007 interview with Newsweek, he reported that, during a meeting between the two, Saudi King ‘Abdallah had bluntly said to President Ahmadinejad: “You are interfering in Arab affairs… Whether you deny it or nor, this is creating bad feelings for Iran and we think you should stop it.” Al-Faisal added: “[Iran’s] interference in Arab affairs is creating a backlash in the Arab world and in the Muslim world.” Newsweek (U.S.), March 29, 2007.
[2] Articles in the Gulf press warned against the Iranian threat, and called on the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to form a united front against it. Saudi columnist Yousef Al-Kuwailit wrote in the daily Al-Riyadh: “Why aren’t [the Gulf countries] taking any interest in establishing their own joint [military] force…? Have we forgotten how Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait? Have we forgotten the Persian shah’s threats to invade Bahrain, and the reiteration of those same threats by a senior Iranian official just a few weeks ago? Have we forgotten the dispute between Iran and the UAE over the [three] islands? The [conflict] has not yet reached alarming proportions, but we must be careful…” Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), November 1, 2007. For further details on the call to form a military alliance to repel the Iranian threat, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1769, “Saudi Columnists Call on Gulf States to Form Anti-Iran,”November 20, 2007,<= span >176907.
[3] Al-Majalla (Saudi Arabia), December 22, 2007.
[4] In a September 2007 meeting with Saudi King ‘Abdallah bin ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Aal Thani promised to keep his country’s mediation efforts – especially with regards to Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon – in line with understandings reached by the GCC and the Arab League. Al-Jarida (Kuwait), September 25, 2007.
[5] Alhomayed wrote that the invitation was a reward that Ahmadinejad did not deserve, and added: “Inviting someone like [former Iranian president Mohammad] Khatami would have been understandable, since he is one of those who call for dialogue and coexistence. Had they invited someone of [Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar] Hashemi Rafsanjani=D5s caliber, we might have said that he is a pragmatic leader with whom a political agreement is possible. Ahmadinejad, however, is the opposite, and inviting him only [strengthens] him in Iran vis-=88-vis those who claim that he is placing his country at risk.” Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 4, 2007.
[6] In an editorial in the UAE daily Al-Ittihad, Columnist Khaled Al-Dakhil wrote that a feeling is emerging in the Gulf that “the American umbrella of defense is not providing the necessary stability in the region, but has actually become a source of instability… There are signs indicating an expected change in the security strategy of the GCC states.” Al-Ittihad (UAE), December 12, 2007.
Columnist Dr. ‘Abdallah Al-Shaiji likewise described the Gulf states’ concern over the inconsistency of U.S. policy, alongside their fears regarding Iran’s intentions: “…We have the right to be concerned about [the possibility of a] war, and about [the possibility of an Iran-US.] agreement… We see Washington’s oscillations [in its relations with] Tehran… first escalating the nuclear [crisis] and then withdrawing [from its position], warning about the nuclear threat in 2005 and then dismissing this threat, with great confidence, [in 2007]. [We saw America] wooing [Iran], warming its relations with it, and negotiating with it over Iraq. Then [we saw] the failure [of these negotiations] and their [subsequent] renewal… How long will we continue to be pawns and victims in the great chess game that Washington is playing in the Middle East with the last member of the ‘Axis of Evil,’ which will cease to be regarded [as such] after the U.S. signs an agreement with it…?” Al-Ittihad (UAE), December 17, 2007.
Saudi Columnist ‘Adel Al-Tarifi called on the Gulf states not to be complacent about the NIE report, and to “reorganize, [step up] their security and economic cooperation, and exert heavy pressure on Iran…” in order to defuse the Iranian threat. Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), December 19, 2007.
In contrast, others argued that there was no alternative to the alliance with the U.S. Kuwaiti MP Khudhayr Al-‘Anzi said, “In light of the security situation, which is on the brink of explosion, and the talk about Iran’s progress towards the attainment of nuclear weapons, the Gulf states cannot afford to abandon their security agreements with the U.S. For who would [then] protect our oil [wells]? Who would protect the Gulf economy?… Al-‘Arabiya TV, December 4, 2007.
Qatari reformist ‘Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari wrote in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Jarida: “The Gulf states are too sensible, wise, and intelligent to replace someone who has supported them, stood by their side in times of disaster, assisted them in liberating their lands and in delivering themselves from the evil neighbor, and supplied them with means of development and progress… with [Iran]. We must tell Iran clearly and without embellishments: Your nuclear plants are a threat to both us and yourselves, and there is no substitute for our Western and American ally.” Al-Jarida (Kuwait), December 10, 2007.
[7] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 4, 2007.
[8] Al-Raya (Qatar), December 5, 2007.
[9], December 9, 2007.
[10] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), December 5, 2007. A Bahraini diplomat pointed out that, while the Iranians had described these meetings as “friendly,” UAE sources had refrained from commenting on them, which was a sign of the Emirates’ displeasure.
[11] December 4, 2007.
[12] Al-Sharq (Qatar), December 4, 2007.
[13] Akhbar Al-Khaleej (Bahrain), December 27, 2007.
[14] IRNA (Iran), December 30, 2007.
[15] Bahrain News Agency, December 10, 2007.
[16] Al-Hayat (London), December 16, 2007.
[17] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 12, 2007.
[18] Kuwait News Agency (Kuwait), December 11, 2007.
[19] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), December 5, 2007.
[20] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 4, 2007.
[21] Al-Arabiya TV, December 6, 2007.
[22] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), December 5, 2007.
[23] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 5, 2007.
[24] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), December 7, 2007.
[25] Al-Watan (Qatar), January 2, 2008.
[26] Akhbar Al-Khaleej (Bahrain), January 1, 2008.
[27] Fars (Iran), December 25, 2007.
[28] Kayhan (Iran), December 27, 2007.
[29] IRNA (Iran), December 31, 2007.
[30] IRNA (Iran), December 30, 2007.
[31] Kayhan (Iran), December 4, 2007.
[32] Sobh-e Sadeq (Iran), December 3, 2007.