Stephen Pollard points out that Israel isn’t alone as we once thought in the Middle East: In short nobody wants a nuclear Iran

Important Takeaways:

  • How ancient hatreds are reshaping the Middle East and forging unlikely alliances. The rise of Iran – and its chilling proximity to a nuclear weapon – has driven old foes closer, explains STEPHEN POLLARD
  • The competition is strong, but for my money the most important geopolitical statement so far this year came on Monday from an obscure Israeli news site.
  • A member of the Saudi Arabian royal family had reportedly told the broadcaster Kan that, in his view, Iran had started the Gaza war by instructing its proxy group Hamas to massacre Israelis on October 7.
  • Tehran’s intention, according to this nameless royal, was to thwart the imminent normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Saudis.
  • Why is that so important? Because it symbolizes the extraordinary transformation under way in the politics of the Middle East. For a Saudi royal to express such a view – that a Muslim country instigated the conflict for the purpose of spreading discord – would have been unimaginable only a few years ago. But that’s not the only way in which the winds of change are resettling alliances in this volatile region.
  • On Saturday night, the ayatollahs of Iran inflicted their first direct attack on Israel since they came to power in the 1979 revolution.
  • Allies such as the US and UK played a role in this. But they were joined by two other countries for whom defending the Jewish state would have been fanciful until recently: Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
  • For most of the time Israel has existed, Saudi, as one of the world’s leading Muslim nations and home to the holy city of Mecca, has been its implacable foe. But now it is on the verge not just of tolerating Israel but becoming an ally.
  • Similarly, back in 1967, Jordan actually invaded Israel – a disastrous move which lost it the territories of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Yet now Jordan, too, has stood alongside Israel to protect it from Iranian bombs. This newfound co-operative spirit continues: just yesterday it emerged that both the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates had passed helpful intelligence to America to use in Israel’s defense, with Jordan further agreeing to let the US and ‘other countries’ warplanes’ use its airspace, as well as sending up its own jets.
  • One thing is clear. The rise of Iran – and its chilling proximity to a nuclear weapon – has driven old foes closer.
  • There is a logic, then, to the gradually deepening alliances between Sunni states and Israel. The Arab nations understand that while Israel has no ambitions to dominate its neighbors, Iran [the Ayatollah] seeks to control all of the Middle East.
  • In Gulf states such as the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and especially Saudi Arabia, the Shia threat – in other words the threat from Iran – is seen as existential.
  • It needs to be stressed that the vast majority of Sunnis and Shias would rather just get on with their lives than embroil themselves in these disputes

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Trump: U.S. will respond with ‘great force’ if Iran attacks interests

FILE PHOTO - U.S. President Donald Trump addresses a Trump 2020 re-election campaign rally in Montoursville, Pennsylvania, U.S. May 20, 2019.    REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump warned on Monday Iran would be met with “great force” if it attacked U.S. interests in the Middle East, and government sources said Washington strongly suspects Shi’ite militias with ties to Tehran were behind a rocket attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone.

“I think Iran would be making a very big mistake if they did anything,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House on Monday evening for an event in Pennsylvania. “If they do something, it will be met with great force but we have no indication that they will.”

His comments came as two U.S. government sources said the United States strongly suspects Shi’ite militias with ties to, and possibly encouragement from, Iran fired a rocket on Sunday into Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone.

The sources, who are familiar with U.S. national security assessments and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the United States was still trying to establish which militia fired the Katyusha rocket on Sunday and the extent, if any, of Iranian involvement.

The rocket fell in the Green Zone which houses government buildings and embassies and caused no casualties, the latest in a series of regional attacks the United States believes may have been inspired by Iran. Iran has rejected allegations of its possible involvement in attacks last week and Iran’s Iraqi allies rushed to condemn Sunday’s rocket blast.

The attacks include what Saudi Arabia described as armed drone attacks on two oil pumping stations within the kingdom on May 14 and the sabotage of four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on May 12.

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group claimed responsibility for attacking the pumping stations. Saudi Arabia accused Tehran of ordering the attack. Tensions between Washington and its Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab allies on one side and Tehran and its Shi’ite Muslim proxies on the other have been flaring for weeks.

European and U.S. government sources believe Shi’ite militias based in Yemen or Iraq carried out the attacks in Saudi Arabia and near the UAE, likely with Iran’s encouragement.

The two U.S. sources said they are still trying to establish whether the rocket attack if inspired or directed by Iran, was designed to send a specific signal to the United States.

The incidents all took place after Trump decided to try to cut off Iran’s oil exports, roughly a year after he withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers.

Trump’s decision to abandon the deal that restricted Iran’s potential pathway to developing a nuclear bomb in return for relief from economic sanctions angered Tehran, which accuses Washington of breaking its word. Iran denies ever having a nuclear weapons program.


In what may be a sign of Iranian displeasure, an Iranian news service reported on a fourfold increase in Iran’s rate of production of low-grade uranium enrichment.

Quoting an official at the Natanz enrichment plant, the semi-official Tasnim news service said Iran was accelerating the rate of production at which it refines uranium to 3.67% fissile purity, suitable for civilian nuclear power generation.

Two weeks ago, after Trump sought to block all Iranian oil exports, Iran said it would relax some of its commitments under the accord it struck with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

Under the deal, negotiated by the administration of Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, Iran was allowed to stockpile up to 300 kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) and ship any excess out of the country for storage or sale.

Iran said this month that cap no longer applied in response to the U.S. withdrawal from the deal.

It was not clear how far Iran’s LEU stock was from the 300-kg limit. Under the deal Iran can enrich uranium at 3.67%, well below the 90% purity required to make bombs and the 20% level to which Iran enriched before the deal.

Former U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, speaking to BBC World News television, played down the uranium announcement, saying “I don’t know that it’s necessary to go into the panic mode yet.”

Clapper stressed, as have some other analysts and diplomats, the danger of an accidental escalation, particularly when opposing forces are close to one another. Both U.S. and Iranian vessels patrol in the Strait of Hormuz.

“The thing I would  be concerned about is some inadvertent incident that could go incendiary,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had warned Iraqi leaders during a surprise visit two weeks ago to Baghdad that if they failed to rein in Iran-backed militias, which are expanding their power in Iraq and form part of its security apparatus, the United States would respond with force.

A U.S. State Department official noted on Sunday that there had been no claim of responsibility for the rocket attack, and that no U.S.-inhabited facility was affected, but said “we will hold Iran responsible” if such attacks were carried out by proxy militia forces.

On Sunday, Trump threatened Iran in a tweet, raising concerns about a potential U.S.-Iran conflict.

“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” he tweeted.

Critics accused Trump of sending mixed signals. Last week three U.S. officials told Reuters that Trump had told his top advisers he does not want war with Iran.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Trump “bluffs about going after Iran” and said the consequences of being drawn into a war would be “tragic.”

Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi warned U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a letter made public on Monday that “if unchecked, the current situation might – sooner or later – go beyond the perimeter of control and thereby lead to another unnecessary regional crisis.”

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Patricia Zengerle and David Brunnstrom in Washington; John Davison, Ahmed Rasheed, and Ahmed Aboulenein in Baghdad, Raya Jalabi in Erbil and Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London; Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Arshad Mohammed and David Alexander; editing by Grant McCool and Phil Berlowitz)