DUBAI (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu owes his election win to Israeli security fears, notably about Iran’s growing regional influence, said an official of a Gulf Arab government wary of Tehran’s progress towards a nuclear deal with world powers.
“With Iran emerging again, it was highly expected that Netanyahu would win,” said the Gulf Arab official, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.
“He’s a man who believes strongly in protecting his people, and this is what Israel wants now.”
The Gulf Arab states, led by dominant Gulf Sunni Muslim power Saudi Arabia, see Shi’ite Iran as their main regional rival and fear an atomic deal could lead to Tehran developing a nuclear weapon, or could ease political pressure on it, giving it more space to back Arab proxies opposed by Riyadh.
Iran and six world powers are holding talks to reach a deal aimed at assuaging their fears that Tehran is using the fuel enrichment process of its atomic power programme to secretly develop a nuclear weapon.
Tehran denies that charge and wants to lift heavy international sanctions imposed on its economy.
Netanyahu won an unexpected election victory on Wednesday after tacking hard to the right in late campaigning, including abandoning a commitment to negotiate a Palestinian state.
Gulf Arabs identified with Israel’s fear of Iran’s influence, suggested Sami alFaraj, a Kuwaiti security adviser to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which comprises Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait.
“On the one hand, there’s pessimism about Netanyahu’s declared policies not to divide Jerusalem and not to establish a Palestinian state,” he said.
“On the other, there’s a feeling in the Gulf that some of his tough stances could be loosened later, especially if there is a convergence of views in the region around Iran.”
“Without any sense of collusion with Israel, there is a feeling of affinity in the Gulf with Israel’s stance on curbing the influence of Iran in the area.”
He said the Iranian nuclear talks were “really scary” for Gulf Arab states, which are unnerved by Iran’s backing for Shi’ite forces in conflicts in Iraq and Syria and its alliances with Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and Yemen’s Houthi militia.
There was also a feeling that Netanyahu’s victory boded ill for moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.
Khaled al-Maeena, a veteran Saudi journalist and political analyst, told Reuters about Netanyahu: “Here is a man who destroyed Gaza and said there would be no Palestinian state. So this does not make us feel there will be happy times ahead. He’s bent on destroying.”
Reporting by Amena Bakr and William Maclean; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky