Arab Countries: A Nuclear Iran Would be “Positive”

A majority of the Arab population support Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, says a new study by the University of Maryland and Zogby International.

Shibley Telhami, the principal investigator of the 2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll announced at the unveiling of the study at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. that an overwhelming number of Arabs feel that Iran has the right to pursue a nuclear program, even if the program is not for peaceful purposes.

This study goes against the opinion of many experts who say that Arab nations would oppose a nuclear-armed Iran, including Mustafa Alani, research director at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai, who said “We have a shared interest in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power”.

The poll indicates that 77 percent of the surveyed Arab population think Iran has the right to pursue a nuclear program, which jumped up from 53 percent last year. More than half also acknowledged that Iran is likely pursuing a nuclear program for non-peaceful means. A majority (57 percent) also said it would be “more positive” for the Middle East region if Iran had a nuclear weapon. Last year, only 29 percent of the population felt a nuclear-armed Iran would be “positive” for Middle Eastern countries. A mere 20 percent say that Iran should be pressured to stop its program.

The survey focused on Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and the UAE between June 29 and July 20 of this year.

“This does not mean they like Iran. Arabs have mixed feelings,” said Telhami. “This is highly correlated to how they feel about the U.S. and their hopefulness of U.S. foreign policy.” According to the poll, the greatest foreign policy issues that disappoint the surveyed countries are the Palestine/Israeli conflict and the War in Iraq. While the war in Afghanistan overwhelmingly trumps Western headlines, only 4 percent of the surveyed population said they were disappointed with Obama’s handling of Afghanistan.

Additionally, the surveyed countries feel that the U.S. and Israel pose a greater threat to Middle East peace than Iran. While Israel scored 88 percent, Iran scored 10 percent.

“What you have is an evaluation of Iran through the lens of bigger threats—when over 80 percent are worried over Israel, the Iran issue seems marginalized. So the evaluation isn’t really about Iran—a lot of it is “the enemy of my enemy.”

The poll suggests that the Arab community has also dropped in its support and optimism for the Obama Administration because of his handling of Iraq and relationship with Israel.

“This disappointment comes from the outcome of the Iraq elections. I don’t think we get it sometimes. It’s not that Arabs don’t care about Afghanistan, but it’s not the prism they evaluate American foreign policy,” said Telhami. “It’s not the main issue to them.”

63 percent are discouraged by Obama’s policies towards the Middle East, which changed dramatically from 15 percent in 2009.

To view the complete report, visit Brookings.

Tom Friedman and the Washington Institute: Grading Obama’s Middle East Foreign Policy Plan

An interesting study was gone by the Institute by Patrick Clawson and Michael Eisenstadt on “How to think about preventative military action against Iran” that supplements this discussion. Find it here

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy concluded its 25th anniversary celebration with a discussion on the success and effectiveness of President Obama’s foreign policy plan. Tomas L. Friedman, Martin Kramer, William Kristol, Robert Saloff, and David Makovsky were among the panelists who discussed issues such as Israel/Palestine, nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and what to do with Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“What’s going on today in America is the greatest show on earth,” said Friedman on the sweeping changes the Obama administration has implemented on the domestic front. On the international front, however, he said the Administration hasn’t had the conviction to stand strong and take action on necessary issues. He did praise two efforts of the administration: the training of a Palestinian police force in the West Bank and having the Vice President lead Iraq across the finish line in the coming months.

Kristol said the President also deserves credit for efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not with Israel or the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon. “With this regime, nuclear weapons would be a disaster,” he said. The U.S. lost its window of opportunity to act forcefully during the political unrest on June 12 and has not seriously considered military action. These factors, he said, have slowly led us to two terrible choices: an Israeli strike on Iran or Iran’s creation of a weapon.

Military action would be a high-risk operation and would create huge implications for the global and U.S. economy, Friedman noted.

The real debate, he said, should be on what happens the morning after the morning after? What happens when Iran gets a bomb, and God forbid, does something with it? Or what happens the morning after Israel attacks an Iranian nuclear site?

First, there will be attacks on Jewish sites, U.S. embassies and individuals. The global economy would weaken, and Iran would now have justification for attacking and creating a weapon of their own.

Soon, other Middle East countries will obtain weapons, like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and then conflicts will escalate between Shiite and Sunni nations.

Troops in the Middle East will be more exposed, the “War on Terror” will be more difficult, and Iran would enjoy united support of all its people against one enemy, which hasn’t existed in the past year. They also could channel what weapons they have to terrorist groups outside the country.

Makovsky said if Iran did obtain a weapon, it would be a severe blow to U.S. prestige in the Middle East and the prestige of future presidents.

Kramer said he admired our missionary impulse in the Middle East, “but sometimes, ther are people you just have to fight and you just have to kill because they are determined to do that to you.”