The Arabs and Iran

Shibley Telhami

Regardless of Arab public opinion, governments in the Arab world remain largely authoritarian, with a demonstrated capacity to go against their public sentiment on critical issues, such as war. To be sure, there are always consequences for ignoring public opinion—and these may be growing—but when push comes to shove, governments have been able to disregard their publics when the stakes are important enough. The question is therefore: how do Arab governments think about the Iran issue, including the prospects of an American or an Israeli attack on Iran?

The first thing to note is that there is no unified Arab government position. Although, with the exception of Syria, most are suspicious of Iran and worry about rising Iranian power and influence, the degree of concern varies, and the sources of concern vary even more. Even in the case of Syria, where Iran is seen for the foreseeable future as a strategic partner, the Syrian government, a secular Arab nationalist government, is not naturally comfortable with the Islamic regime in Tehran. This much is clear (and is the basis of the prevailing conventional wisdom in Washington): most Arab governments would like Iranian power trimmed, with some supporting a potential attack on its nuclear facilities by either Israel or the United States.

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