Thursday, February 08, 2007

Fanning the flames: One of the most visible advocates of "stopping Iran" has been the head of Washington's high profile WINIP

VOA News - Analysts: Concerns About Iran Could Create Opportunities for US, Allies:
The article features Robert Satloff, head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Mr. Satloff was recently an official guest of the U.S. embassy in Cairo. While the institute that he heads purportedly is non-partisan, an inspection of its web page will yield little by way of criticism of Israel. Like Israel, WINIP officials, and not least Satloff, have been urging that the U.S. needs to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Satloff has also been emphasizing what he sees as a growing chasm between Sunni Arabs and Shi'i Muslims.

"'Today Sunni Arab animosity to all things Persian and all things Shi'ite is deep,' he said. 'Sunni Arab fear of rising Iranian influence in the Middle East is palpable. Sunni Arab desire not to be tarred with the same brush as the apocalyptic Shi'ite mystic who serves as Iran's president is real. In this sense, in my view, we in the West have a moment of opportunity, not to stoke inter-religious conflict, but to take advantage of the Sunni Arab anxiety about Iran to advance vital strategic, political and ideological objectives.'

Satloff argues Sunni Arab states want the United States to counter growing Iranian influence, especially among radicals, but says there is little evidence so far these governments are willing to take significant political risks to help promote American goals in the region."

My own view, after living in Cairo for nearly six months, is that that while concerns about Iran's assertive foreign policy in the Arab world are certainly presently, comments like those of Satloff exaggerate the animosity. Arab political leaders seem to much more concerned about the instability emanating from the disastrous situation in Iraq than about threatening Shi'i Muslims per se. In this sense, Saudi Arabia's recent diplomacy, aimed at finding an accommodation with Iran over Lebanon, reveals a lot more nuance in the Saudis' concerns than Satloff's comments suggest.

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