Is the Arab World Turning Against Iran?

Experts once again envision a U.S.-Arab alliance. Is it a pipe dream?

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Middle East-watchers have long wondered whether Iran would grow too strong for the rest of the region's comfort. (Iran's continued nuclear development, covered by the Wire here, here and here, have strengthened this question.) Ethnic distinctions, some experts argue, could become the fault line along which majority-Persian Iran splits from the rest of the predominately Arab Middle East. This would grant an opening to Israel and the U.S. to ally with Arab states against Iran, ending to the Israel-Arab split that has defined the region for half a century. But would Muslim Arabs really ally with Jews and Christians against fellow Muslims in Iran? Or is this theory merely a pipe dream of pro-Israel American analysts?

  • For Arabs, Iran the New Israel Foreign Policy's Thomas Ricks writes, "Iran is getting more powerful, and that scares the Arab states. So they seem to be turning away from worrying about Israel and focusing more on Iran as it moves toward becoming a nuclear power. The Bush administration actually helped strengthen Iran a lot by knocking down Iraq as the great bulwark against the expansion of Persian power westward," he writes. "Will [nuclear scientist] AQ Khan and the Bush administration together inadvertently have brought Arab-Israeli peace to the Middle East?"
  • A Sunni-Jewish Alliance? The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg predicts that Sunni Muslims will ally with Israel against the Shia Muslims of Iran. Sunnis make up the majorities of all Arab states, except Iraq where they they are the minority, and Yemen where they make up half the population. Goldberg writes that Iraq, which became the first Shia-run Arab state when the U.S. toppled Sunni leader Saddam Hussein, makes a Sunni-Shia split possible. "Consider the possibility of a grand, if necessarily implicit, Jewish-Sunni alliance as a gift to Obama from his predecessor." Why? "[M]ost Arab states have a deeper interest in containing Iran than they do in containing Israel."
  • Sunni Arabs Already Splitting From Iran Commentary's Michael Totten thinks Arab Sunni public already mistrust and fear Iran. "The leadership in most of these countries has thought so for years. That average citizens now do so should be encouraging news [...] Thanks to the Iranian government's stubborn insistence on developing nuclear weapons, the age-old strife between Persians and Arabs, and Shias and Sunnis, may finally be eclipsing the Arab-Israeli conflict," he writes. For example, "The civil war between Sunni and Shia militias in Baghdad a few years ago was much nastier than any of the Israeli-Palestinian wars."
  • Are You Guys Nuts? Middle East blogger Gregg Carlstrom doesn't buy it. He concedes that Arab governments want U.S. pressure to slow Iran's growth, but cites polling data that most Arab people still see Israel as a bigger threat. "[T]he poll asks respondents to pick the two countries 'that you think pose the biggest threat to you.' Israel is first, at 88 percent; the United States is second, at 77 percent. Iran (13 percent) comes in slightly ahead of China (9 percent)."
Polling in the Arab world is difficult. But the data we have suggests that Arab publics do not view Iran's nuclear program as an existential threat. They're worried about it -- but when asked to place it on a list of threats, it tends to rank fairly low. There's little evidence to suggest Arab polities are preparing to set aside their dislike for America and Israel and join the U.S. in some kind of grand alliance against Iran.
  • Been Predicted Many Times Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch dismisses, "Been hearing this argument for a decade." If it hasn't come to fruition yet, why would it?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.