View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Sunday, June 14, 2009

How the UAE Views the Prospect of a Nuclear-Armed Iran?

Tariq Khaitous (Visiting Fellow at the Washington Institute) has compiled a personal report for the Institute entitled, ‘Arab Reactions to a Nuclear-Armed Iran’.

It is available to the link below.

If you don’t want to wade through the 40 pages here is a brief summary with a UAE slant:

Generally there is Little Support
“Arab regimes share a belief that Iran is using its civilian nuclear program as a pretext to develop a nuclear military capability. Since the end of the Cold War, Iran’s sense of security has been in constant flux. Iran has been wary of the growing U.S. presence in the region, first with the removal of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and then with the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Arab countries understand Iran’s security concerns and recognize that the Islamic Republic faces numerous challenges. However, with the exception of Syria, none of the Arab regimes has expressed support for Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

Fear of Iran Influence
“A nuclear-armed Iran would lead to a cascade of conventional arms buildup in the Middle East, a trend that has already begun. Arab regimes would fear that Iran would become the most influential country in the region and, as a result, they might seek to modernize their military capabilities in order to mitigate the acceleration” toward Iranian hegemony.”

Multilateral Discussions Needed
“To avoid such escalation [of weaponry], Arab states should intensify their involvement in multilateral discussions with Iran…. The involvement of the Arab regimes might make Iran more likely to take negotiations seriously. If Arab states remain on the sidelines and Iran succeeds in acquiring a nuclear weapon, this would have major consequences for the future of the Arab world. It would serve as a tool to intimidate Arab regimes and envelop them in Tehran’s sphere of influence. The Iranian regime would take a significant step forward in establishing itself as a regional power, and it would have more leverage to interfere in Arab issues. This only underscores the need for joint Arab action against Iran’s nuclear threat.”

On UAE Mistrust
“Some Arab states consider Iran to be an occupying power in Arab lands: the United Arab Emirates has claimed sovereignty over the three disputed islands located at the entrance of the Persian Gulf since its independence in 1971, and Iraq has a long-standing dispute with Iran over control of the Shatt al-Arab waterway.”

Huge Military Expenditure by UAE
“A notable example is the largest GCC arms purchase in the decade 1995–2005: the purchase by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) of sixty F-16 aircraft from the United States. The UAE engaged in tough negotiations to obtain good terms and invested substantially in training and infrastructure to make effective use of the planes once they arrived.”

“In the field of air and air defense forces, some of the wealthier regional states (particularly the UAE) have stepped forward and displayed a commitment to playing a credible role in the air defense network. In September 2008, the UAE agreed to purchase a U.S. missile defense system for $7 billion, including the Theater High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system.5 According to Defense News, “The proposed sale of the weapons will strengthen the effectiveness and interoperability of a potential coalition partner, reduce the dependence on U.S. forces in the region, and enhance any coalition operations the U.S. may undertake.”6 In December 2008, the UAE ordered its first shipment of U.S. Patriot-3 missiles. According to the clauses in the contract, “The agreement...includes technology, training, and supply of the medium range missile system, which is part of a multi-tiered defensive shield the UAE Armed Forces is building to protect the nation from perceived threats in the region.”

See the graph in the report that illustrates the growing expenditure in things military.

UAE Defence Against Iran
Given the character of the weapons systems purchases, the best explanation is the Iranian threat. Consider the UAE’s $7 billion THAAD purchase. There is only one threat the UAE could have had in mind, namely, Iranian attacks on U.S. interests in the region…. For the UAE, the U.S. missile defense system is a necessity to counter Iran’s advanced missile capabilities.”

“Historically, Arab states have been tight-lipped about their military expenditure, but because they now fear Iran’s growing strength, these regimes have shown more transparency in order to send a warning message to Tehran to stay within its borders.”

UAE Seeking Western Assistance
“The UAE has already begun opening its territory to new Western powers. On January 15, 2008, French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Emirati officials signed an agreement to establish a new permanent military base in Abu Dhabi, close to the strategic Strait of Hormuz and facing the Iranian coast.”

Seeking US Nuclear Arms Umbrella
“Under the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, it is likely that America’s Arab allies would seek to expand military cooperation to include de facto U.S. nuclear deterrence in the region.”

Full Report:
Tariq Khaitous, ‘Arab Reactions to a Nuclear-Armed Iran’, Washington Institute.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Photo from front page of report.