The Mideast’s Odd Couple


The Obama administration’s ongoing efforts to reach a diplomatic agreement with Iran over its nuclear program have America’s two most important Mideast allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, on the same page in voicing their deep concerns.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni acknowledged that “when you hear the Saudis talking about what needs to be done in order to prevent a (nuclear-armed) Iran, I mean it sounds familiar.

“I think that you can hear that Arabic sounds familiar to Hebrew when it comes to Iran,” she said of the two countries that have long been enemies, adding: “In order to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon, we need to cooperate with those (who) understand that Iran is a threat to them as well.”

It’s an open secret that a number of Arab states would like nothing more than to see Israel take out Iran’s nuclear program, even if they would raise a public outcry condemning the action after the fact. Such private support doesn’t stem from some new softening toward “the Zionist entity” but from the old instinct known as self-preservation. Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states are deadly afraid of a Shiite-revolutionary Iran with nuclear arms. But whether that means these long-time enemies of Israel could swallow their pride — and prejudice — and cooperate with Jerusalem in preventing the region from becoming a nuclear tinderbox remains to be seen.

For now, Secretary of State Kerry’s insistence that the U.S. is pursuing a diplomatic initiative “with eyes wide open,” fully recognizing that “a bad deal is worse than no deal,” indicates a realization that high-stake risks are at hand. But when Riyadh and Jerusalem are making the same case, asserting that Iran is stalling for time rather than showing interest in serious compromise, Washington should understand that its Mideast policy is on shaky ground — in the Mideast itself.

The issue now is less about engaging in talks with Iran at this point but in holding firm to the crippling sanctions that have brought Tehran to the table. Any easing of those sanctions on the way to some hoped-for agreement will only convince Iran’s leaders that it can outsmart the West. And with every day passing those centrifuges are spinning.