A lot of people, primarily right-wing analysts in the U.S. and Israel, have condemned the proposed nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran. Their opposition is essentially on the following grounds:

  • The deal doesn’t stop Iran from eventually getting a nuclear weapon
  • Safeguards and inspections are inadequate
  • Disposals of existing nuclear materials have been deferred
  • Giving away too much for securing too little

The concerns about nuclear proliferation are largely valid in the case of Iran, but many analysts have overlooked serious strategic issues that help to offset many of these concerns. To  a large extent, the following article adopts the “odd man rule” i.e. that if a general group of people (such as Asia Times columnists) all believe in the same thing, then it behooves one of them to examine the alternate line of thinking. In this case, that appears to be my job.

Firstly, everyone in the West needs to recognize that Saudi Arabia is very much a nuclear power even if it claims not to be one. The country has actively funded the Pakistan nuclear program, and it was widely rumored a few years ago that Pakistan specifically manufactured 30-40 nuclear bombs for Saudi Arabia. This has been covered by Asia Times journalists including Saleem Shahzad who was murdered for his efforts to unmask the sinister actions of the ISI and nuclear proliferators in the country.

Recognizing this fact is important for anyone to properly evaluate the security situation in the Middle East. Its fanciful to think that the Saudi Arabian government secured these nuclear weapons to counter the Iranian nuclear program; if for nothing else because Iran still doesn’t have nuclear weapons, and certainly wasn’t any closer to getting them a few years ago when the Saudis got Pakistan to manufacture these weapons.

Viewed from this perspective, the Iranian nuclear program is a reaction to the proliferation efforts of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia; both hostile Sunni powers that are bent on extermination of all Shia communities.

Secondly, the key risk for the West has been Sunni extremism and not its Shia equivalent (barring Israel which has faced horrific acts of terrorism from Iran-funded outfits). 9/11 was perpetrated by Sunni extremists, and 16 hijackers hailed from Saudi Arabia. This little fact is usually kicked under the carpet when analysts talk about terrorism, because of course many Western think-tanks have been funded by the House of Saud, and have a vested interest in highlighting Iran as the principal risk; something that events on the ground do not bear out.

Saudi Arabia has been exporting its virulent form of extremism to other countries, taking turns to destabilize and radicalize countries. Three countries stand out in this regard – Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan. One is a NATO ally and the other two are allied with the U.S. in its war on terror; and yet the “friendly” Saudi government has deemed it fit to destabilize and radicalize these countries. With friends like the House of Saud, does America even need enemies?

To the extent that any Iranian nuclear program helps to defang the House of Saud, that would be welcome news for the rest of the world. The Iranians are worried about extermination and genocide at the hands of Sunni fanatics, having a couple of nukes handy to drop on Riyadh can be no bad thing in helping to avoid that eventuality.

Thirdly, the House of Saud has become a more dangerous entity over the past few months as it tries to establish its authority on the region. The terrorists of the Islamic State were funded by the House of Saud, something they quietly downplay these days after the philistines ran amok, chopping off American heads much to the consternation of the rest of the world. The invasion of Yemen ostensibly to oust the Houthi rebels is another piece of evidence pointing directly to the overly aggressive and militant tendencies of the House of Saud.

After the death of King Abdullah, a few interesting articles circulated that highlighted the “reformed” Saudi state against the more barbaric Islamic State outfit that Western media were railing against. The image from Google is reproduced below. The differences are small, and the distinction, little. Clearly, the House of Saud is not a force for good in the region or indeed, the world. Any player who sees the House of Saud as a direct enemy – as ironically both the Islamic State and Iran do – are likely to be useful in the long run.

Fourthly, the House of Saud is tottering. It has lost touch with the people it pretends to rule, as shown by the decision to appoint King Salman to succeed King Abdullah. Various media outlets in the Middle East have highlighted the medical problems of the new King – dementia being a commonly cited illness – and the rest of his retinue.

When pushed to a corner, the House of Saud is likely to lash out against its perceived enemies. Americans and Israelis shouldn’t pretend not to have heard the discussions on the “extermination” of the Jewish state that various Saudi royals have voiced, and their funding for various outfits to achieve this objective has been proven beyond doubt. If their legitimacy is questioned, the House of Saud may well gamble on using its nuclear weapons to strike Israel, essentially to prove its “Islamic” credentials and sustain its rule for another 100 years. That danger has been underplayed by everyone – more pointedly, that’s a good reason to keep a dangerous enemy of the House of Saud close by and ready. That would be Iran.

Penultimately, analysts also need to consider how much of a danger Iran really is. Based on the following, I am not entirely sure it merits quite the amount of fear that it apparently evinces:

  1. Demographics are fairly negative
  2. Women are educated, unlike elsewhere in the Middle East
  3. The state is decrepit and needs fresh investment
  4. Economic indicators are appalling to say the least

From this perspective, opening up could be quite deadly for Iran’s current polity to remain in power; much as Gorbachev encountered post the Glasnost moment some 30 years ago. The Iranian people may push their government towards greater reforms and democracy; and we all know the dangers of “Spring” movements for leaders in that part of the world.

Lastly, there is a cultural point to consider, however controversial it may be. Persians have survived as a civilization for pretty much all of recorded human history; first as pagans, then as Zoroastrians and more recently as a Shia power. Such civilizations like the Chinese and others in Asia, tend to control their self-extermination traits quite well; especially in comparison to others who are a little more excitable by virtue of being nomads in the desert for much of their history and suddenly discovering wealth in the last 100 years or so.

From a simple risk assessment perspective, the worst case here is that Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to slug it out in the Middle East and keep the fires of hatred burning long enough to allow Israel to implement its longer-term security goals without any impediment. The best case is that the West gets a more reliable friend in Iran than the House of Saud currently is or likely will be for the next 20 years.

Exactly what’s not to like here?

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