The nuclear deal with Iran will stoke more Sunni-Shiite violence, and the Saudis may go shopping for nukes.
While President Obama hopes his nuclear deal with Iran will burnish his presidential legacy as a great peacemaker, the near-term consequence will be more—and even bloodier—sectarian violence in the Middle East. In particular, security threats will escalate for Saudi Arabia and Israel, until now America’s two major Mideast allies.
The Israelis and Saudis, longtime adversaries, in recent years have joined in vehement opposition to Mr. Obama’s attempts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Tehran. For the Israelis the concern was entirely about an Iranian atomic weapon. But for the Saudis the fear was less about future nuclear capability than about the real and present threat that a deal would further enhance Iran’s regional stature and its capability to ratchet up the regime’s exploitation of regional sectarian divisions.That nightmare has arrived. The immediate threat to Saudi Arabia far exceeds that to Israel, which (without saying so) already possesses nuclear weapons and in a real crisis can almost surely be more confident of U.S. support—from future American presidents, if not the current one—than can Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, Sunni Saudi Arabia, not Jewish Israel, is Shiite Iran’s primary rival for regional hegemony.Under the deal announced Tuesday, Iran stands to have $100 billion of assets unfrozen by late this year. That, coupled with the bizarre U.S. decision to unfreeze the ban on selling Iran conventional weapons and ballistic missiles down the road, means that Tehran can use those billions of freshly available assets not to enhance its economy, as the Iranians promised negotiators, but rather to buy deadly new arms for its nefarious partners across the region. These include Shiite militias in Iraq, Syria’s Bashar Assad, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.A cocky, conventionally armed Iran increasing regional mischief-making puts Saudi Arabia in the cross hairs—of Iran, but also of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). As Iranian-backed Shiites across the region increase efforts to exploit turmoil in failing Mideast states for Tehran’s benefit, so too will their Sunni opponents in ISIS, who are no friends of the Saudis.