Obama's Overtures Toward Iran Worry Nearby Arab Nations

Gulf states fear the outcome if the United States fails to halt Tehran's moves to get nuclear weapons.

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Obama's move toward Iran worries Gulf states

While the moderate, Sunni-dominated Gulf states were outspoken critics of President George W. Bush's aggressive approach to the Middle East, President Obama's diplomatic overtures to radical, Shiite-dominated Iran also has Gulf leaders worried, reports the Jordan Times:

"Our basic demand is that America should not give concessions on the Iranian nuclear programme and its interventions in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine . . . ," said Mustafa Alani of the Dubai-based Gulf Research Centre.

"We should be a part of these negotiations. We don't want any surprises. We need to be a partner and our interests need to be represented," Alani continued. Gulf Arabs, who warned against the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, now fear the early withdrawal promised by Obama will leave that country in the hands of Iranian-allied Shiite politicians who have dominated the post-Saddam Hussein government. They fear a U.S. administration that rules out military action will fail to curb Tehran's nuclear programme, and eventually leave Sunni Arabs squeezed between two non-Arab nuclear power centres—Iran and Israel.

Hezbollah makes enemies at home

One of Lebanon's leading liberal journalists, Michael Young, writes that the fundamentalist Shiite movement Hezbollah is less popular and more vulnerable politically than is generally assumed. A key piece of evidence he presents is a Beirut rally in recent days by hundreds of thousands of anti-Hezbollah Lebanese. They gathered for the fourth anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Young's article for the United Arab Emirates newspaper the National is reprinted in Al Arabiya:

The Hariri memorial gathering showed, not for the first time, that there is a substantial portion of Lebanese, certainly a clear majority that would like to see the implementation of a viable project of statehood. In contrast, what Hezbollah offers, and has offered in past years, is an anti-state, a project that defines itself almost entirely through what it has denied the state: a monopoly over the use of violence; sovereignty over all its citizens and territory; and an ability to consolidate Lebanese independence after the debilitating 29-year Syrian military presence.

Since the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in April 2005, Hezbollah has seen its anchors in the society gradually erode, so that it stands virtually alone today in defending its austere vision of a garrison state. The party has the weapons to do so, but not the flexibility to reinvent itself in a way that might reassure its Lebanese partners. Therein lie the roots of Hezbollah's decline, no matter how long that takes.

Read more of Larry Derfner's Mideast Watch.