As US-Iran rapprochement inches toward at least partial consummation in Geneva, I wish to offer a few observations. The Iran nuclear weapons threat has always been a McGuffin, an excuse for various powers to advance an anti-Iran agenda.
Chief among the usual suspects is, of course, Israel under PM Netanyahu. If the Israeli government is able to spin Iran as a nuclear (almost) capable existential threat to Israel, then Israel can make an absolute claim on US sympathy, support, and protection. If Iran returns to good relations with the United States, the US will arguably become less willing to bear the sizable political, diplomatic, and economic cost of deferring to Israel’s priorities—on the Palestinian question, on regional security, and its obstinate refusal to acknowledge its nuclear arsenal and integrate it into the international arms control regime.
The other regional power most interested in thumping the Iran-threat drum is Saudi Arabia. However, I would argue that the high-profile anti-Iran stance of the Kingdom (probably symbolized but not necessarily created by the notorious Prince Bandar) has little to do with the threat of “Iran hegemonism” (a canard frequently retailed in the big-name press) and a lot to do with Saudi Arabia’s decision to go pro-active against the popular democratic agitation expressed by the Arab Spring uprisings by supporting conservative Sunni theology and governance, not just in Shi’ite inflected countries like Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, but also in nations like Libya (where Saudi Arabia and its creature, the Gulf Co-Operation Council were the primary motive force in demanding intervention against Gaddafi) and Egypt.
It’s easy for Saudi Arabia to piggyback on the anti-Iran campaign promoted by the US and Israel and cite Iranian subversion as a pretext for the campaign of conservative Sunni rollback; if Iran is removed from the league table of existential enemies subverting the Sunni heartland, Saudi Arabia is left in the exposed position of protecting Wahhabi obscurantism against liberal democracy. That’s not a happy place to be.