Irak, Medio Oriente y Asia
Los estados árabes contra la posible alianza EEUU-Irán
Graciela Milesi, especial para P.I.
Arab governments, concerned about a possible US.-Iranian alliance in Iraq, are looking to establish a common policy to curb both Washington
and Tehran Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met with Saudi King Fahd and the country's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah, on Oct. 30
to discuss the situation in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though
curbing U.S. influence in the region is a top priority for both.
The meeting marked the fifth time the leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia have met in 2003 -- an unusual amount of contact between once-bitter rivals who competed for leadership of the Arab world. The multiple meetings reflect the growing anxiety Arab states feel about U.S. influence in the region. Even more crucial for these states is
Washington's potential alliance with Tehran. Such an alignment is far
from assured, but the Arab states cannot ignore the possibility that it might emerge, and now Egypt and Saudi Arabia will look to find a way to disrupt a potential U.S.-Iranian detente and establish strong ties with various Iraqi factions, including the country's majority Shiite population.
The Bigger Picture: Reshaping the Region.
The U.S. occupation of Iraq is reshaping the entire regional political dynamic. For the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, Tehran and Washington have common interests that could allow for
detente. A U.S.-Iranian alliance, however improbable at this stage, could soon become a reality. This would reduce the Arab governments' relevance to Washington as well as their ability to influence regional events and, by extension, to contain U.S. influence in the Middle East. Arab states -- including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria -- have limited options in their bilateral relationships with Washington. The United States is the largest trading partner for both Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Cairo receives more than $1 billion in military aid each year, and
Riyadh -- though no longer Washington's most favored Arab partner -- still has billions tied to the U.S. economy. Syria, impoverished in comparison to Egypt or Saudi Arabia, has been in the U.S. sights since the invasion of Iraq and thus far has been unable to gain Washington's confidence or trust.
Other Arab countries -- such as Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates -- are in Washington's back pocket. Even Arab outlier Libya, a stalwart schizophrenic that seemed to relish its rogue status, has reached an agreement with the United States over the Lockerbie bombing and is mostly keeping mum about the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Few countries in the world are able to withstand U.S. pressure; even France, a European powerhouse, has had to acquiesce
to the realities of a globe dominated by Washington. Arab states are far less capable politically, economically and militarily of going against U.S. polices.
On the Ground in Iraq: Arab Options. The U.S. agenda for Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, however, now poses a direct threat to the viability of current Arab governments. Cairo, Riyadh and Damascus have cooperated to various degrees with U.S. security and intelligence agencies in the hunt for al Qaeda. Unfettered cooperation with the United States in sharing intelligence about al Qaeda, however, directly would threaten the domestic stability in these countries. Saudi Arabia, for instance, has yet to move against al Qaeda's suspected financiers inside the kingdom because it might undermine the political status quo. Cooperating on al Qaeda won't save these governments from the pressures they will face if the United States reverses its Middle East
foreign policy and forms a partnership with Iran. Tehran aspires to become a regional leader. It has a more sophisticated political environment and an oil-dependent economy as well as an educated and skilled population and a viable military. Mubarak and Abdullah are trying to develop a strategy for containing the United States and blocking an ascendant Iran. The Arab governments, however, have few options. Damascus or Riyadh might choose to quietly back militant groups or foreign fighters that would destabilize Iraq and by extension bog
down the United States militarily and politically in Baghdad. Neither wants to risk a direct confrontation with Washington, however, and therefore might be willing to look the other way when jihadist forces cross the border. The question is a matter of degree: Though some support for jihadists might be forthcoming, the governments
in question must maintain plausible deniability or risk becoming the next U.S. target. Fueling the Iraqi guerrilla war also would only encourage
U.S.-Iranian cooperation, but that's not to say that Arab governments are discouraging troublemakers in their own countries from crossing into Iraq. A policy of giving covert support to militants would be just a piece of a larger strategy. Competing for Iraq's Shia It is likely the
governments in Cairo, Damascus and Riyadh will hope to exploit the natural rivalry that exists between the Shiite clerics in Iraq and the clerical regime in Iran. Although both groups are Shia, the Iraqi clerics tend to work with Iran while at the same time resenting Tehran's influence and the prestige of Qom -- Iran's theological center -- in the Iraqi shrine cities of Karbala and An Najaf. Though Iraqi Shiites are less likely to view themselves as "Arab" than as Iraqi, the rivalry with
the Persian clerics in Iran nonetheless will be one avenue that Arab governments will seek to exploit.
The maneuver is intended to strengthen Arab ties to Iraq's possible future leadership. Given the concerns of Saudi Arabia and Syria
about their respective northern and eastern flanks, it is likely that both of these states already have intelligence on the ground and are tapping these sources to begin establishing networks of allies. Egypt, long linked with Iraq's technical and political elite in both the Sunni and Shiite communities, also will be activating its networks in Iraq. Since the U.S. invasion, the non-Iraqi Arab involvement in the country mainly has consisted of nongovernmental militant organizations such as al Qaeda. However, Arab governments are fast coming to the realization that
having a voice in Iraq is key to having a voice in the region as a
Egyptian-Saudi Leadership Meetings
Oct. 29, 2003 - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak travels to Saudi Arabia for bilateral talks with King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah.Sept.
30, 2003 - Mubarak travels to Saudi Arabia for bilateral talks with King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah.
Aug. 10, 2003 - Crown Prince Abdullah travels to Egypt to meet with Mubarak for bilateral talks.
April 21, 2003 - Mubarak travels to Riyadh to meet with Crown Prince Abdullah.
Jan. 14-15, 2003 - Mubarak travels to Riyadh for "extended talks" with Crown Prince Abdullah and a meeting with King Fahd.