Iran’s nuclear threat to regional security has replaced Israel as the Arab world’s public enemy number one for the Arab world, according to an Arab survey commissioned by the Doha Debates group.
A majority of respondents from 18 Arab countries said Iran is a bigger threat than Israel, and nearly a third think that Tehran is just as likely to target them as Israel. An overwhelming 80 percent do not believe that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon.
The poll’s results reinforce an opinion of Arab leaders who have traditionally been suspicious of Iran. “The Arab-Israeli conflict is a minor historical hiccup compared with the ancient feuds between Arabs and Persians,” Mideast analyst and journalist Michael J. Totten recently wrote in Commentary Magazine.
“Arabs and Persians have detested each other for more than a thousand years, ever since Arabs conquered pre-modern Iran and converted its people to Islam,” according to Totten, who has covered the war in Iraq and has written extensively from Middle East countries.
“Most Arabs are Sunnis, most Persians are Shias, and Sunnis and Shias have been slugging it out with each other since the eighth century,” he added. “Arabs and Persians killed hundreds of thousands of each other in the Iran-Iraq war alone in the 1980s. The civil war between Sunni and Shia militias in Baghdad a few years ago was much nastier than any of the Israeli-Palestinian wars.”
Totten also noted that Iran and Israel had good relations until the Iranian revolution against the Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1979, when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini “used violent anti-Zionism to win the hearts and minds of the Arabs.”
“It worked to an extent for a while,” Totten wrote. “Most Arab governments didn’t buy it, but the people often did. For a while… it looked like Iran, by supporting Hizbullah and Hamas against Israel, might actually pull off the most unlikely of coups in rallying the mass of Sunni Arabs in support of Persian Shia hegemony. That disconnect now seems to be over.”