Arab Gulf states increasingly concerned about Iran’s nuclear program and expansion in the region


Secretary of State John Kerry was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Thursday in an attempt “to ease Gulf Arab concerns about an emerging deal [with Iran] and discuss ways to calm instability in troubled Yemen and other Mideast nations.” Since the signing of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) in November 2013, the Gulf states and Israel have expressed increased concerns over Iran’s nuclear program, support for terrorism, and quest for regional dominance. In the wake of the JPOA, an unnamed Saudi official said, “The Saudi government has been very concerned about these negotiations with Iran and unhappy at the prospect of a deal with Iran.” Saudi Arabia worries “that any deal reached would mean Iran would widen their influence in the region.”

Since November 2013, Iran has expanded its role in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen, further escalating regional fears. The New York Times reported that in the operation currently underway to retake the Iraqi city of Tikrit “Iranian-backed Shiite militia leaders said that their fighters made up more than two-thirds of the pro-government force of 30,000.” When interviewed by The Times, Landon Shroder, an intelligence analyst, declared that “[b]y  this stage, everybody who observed what happened in Iraq with the Islamic State should know that the main influencer in Iraq is Iran.” In his press conference with Secretary Kerry on Thursday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal declared, “Tikrit is a prime example of what we are worried about. Iran is taking over the country.”

In his speech before Congress on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised the alarm over the potential effects of a nuclear-armed and increasingly aggressive Iran, saying that the current potential “deal that's supposed to prevent nuclear proliferation would instead spark a nuclear arms race in the most dangerous part of the planet.” Michael Singh, Managing Director and Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in February that “[the terms of the reported deal] would certainly give every incentive to states which see Iran as their regional rival or as threatening to pursue matching [nuclear] capabilities if not greater capabilities.”


The biggest concession that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei won in Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the West was the “sunset clause,” after which there “would be no legal limits on Iran’s nuclear ambitions,” Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argued Sunday in an op-ed published in The Washington Post.

Takeyh noted that “[a] good agreement for the supreme leader, however, has to be technologically permissive and of a limited duration,” and explained how Iran achieved those goals.

Since the exposure of Iran’s illicit nuclear program in 2002, its disciplined diplomats have insisted that any accord must be predicated on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which, in their telling, grants Iran the right to construct a vast nuclear infrastructure. In exchange for such a “right,” they would be willing to concede to an inspection regime within the leaky confines of the NPT. And for much of that time, the great powers rebuffed such presumptions from a state that has been censured by numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions and denies the International Atomic Energy Agency reliable access to its facilities and scientists.

As Khamenei held firm, however, the great powers grew wobbly. With the advent of the Joint Plan of Action in November 2013, Iran’s fortunes began to change. Washington conceded to Iran’s enrichment at home and agreed that eventually that enrichment capacity could be industrialized. The marathon negotiations since have seen Iran attempt to whittle down the remaining restrictions, while the United States tries to reclaim its battered red lines. For Khamenei, the most important concession that his negotiators have won is the idea of a sunset clause. Upon the expiration of that clause, there would be no legal limits on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. If the Islamic Republic wants to construct hundreds of thousands of sophisticated centrifuges, build numerous heavy-water reactors and sprinkle its mountains with enrichment installations, the Western powers will have no recourse. And once Iran achieves that threshold nuclear status, there is no verification regime that is guaranteed to detect a sprint to a bomb. An industrial-size nuclear state has too many atomic resources, too many plants and too many scientists to be reliably restrained.

Takeyh observed that “as Khamenei presses toward an accord that will place him in an enviable nuclear position, he can also be assured that technical violations of his commitments would not be firmly opposed. Once a deal is transacted, the most essential sanctions against Iran will evaporate.” Takeyh also observed that “in a region where many dictatorial regimes have collapsed, the Islamic Republic goes on,” and credits Khamenei’s negotiating skills for this outcome, as “‘he has routinely entered negotiations with the weakest hand and emerged in the strongest position.”

Though the op-ed was published prior to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic address before Congress yesterday, the history Takeyh recounts anticipated the “two concessions” Netanyahu critiqued in his speech.

That concession [keeping its nuclear infrastructure in place] creates a real danger that Iran could get to the bomb by violating the deal.

But the second major concession [the sunset clause] creates an even greater danger that Iran could get to the bomb by keeping the deal.

Takeyh’s current concerns about Iran’s nuclear program mark a significant shift in his views. Ten years ago, Takeyh argued that there was no reason to fear Iran, as “its foreign policy is no longer that of a revolutionary state,” and thus, no longer a global threat.


Like generations of men in his ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) family in Israel, 36-year-old Moshe Friedman never learned mathematics, science, English or any other “secular” subject. Until age 30, he spent long hours in yeshiva studying Talmud to the exclusion of all else. “Then I realized I wanted to explore a little bit, to know new fields and meet new people and go on new adventures,” he tells ISRAEL21c in excellent self-taught English. “I found out that Israel is the startup nation, and I said, ‘Why shouldn’t I do that too?’” Friedman personifies the slow but steady move toward high-tech careers among Israel’s Haredi population. Although higher education, military service and professional pursuits still are discouraged in favor of yeshiva studies, the economic reality of supporting large families and the desire to be part of the modern tech revolution are driving a sea change in which Friedman plays a key role. “I tried to get introduced to investors, and they looked at me like I was an alien,” says Friedman. Then he met Israel’s “high-tech godfather,” Yossi Vardi, at a startup competition. Vardi listened to Friedman’s story and said, “We secular people are very upset with Haredim because they don’t go to the army and work, but if they want to start a business we don’t help. I’d like to help you do something about this.” Vardi introduced Friedman to Cisco executive Zika Abzuk, and this unlikely threesome decided to tackle the problem together. In collaboration with Cisco, 18 months ago Friedman founded KamaTech  to begin building a coalition of companies in Israel — including Cisco, Intel, Verisense, Google, Microsoft, IBM, Citibank, Check Point and others — willing to consider hiring qualified ultra-Orthodox engineers. With funding from prominent Israeli entrepreneurs and the UJA Federation in New York, KamaTech also brings industry leaders to speak at member meetings. Friedman estimates that about 12,000 Haredi Israelis are currently qualified to work in the high-tech industry. (via Israel21c)


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