Commentary

Gulf States Remain Concerned over Iran

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Many regional observers have begun speculating on the reasons for the Saudi king’s decision to send his representatives to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama at Camp David instead of coming himself. It is not a secret that the Saudis and their allies see America’s recent overtures toward Tehran with suspicion and unease, fearing that an Iran freed from sanctions would be emboldened to create even more instability in the region. Judging by the various op-eds and editorials on the subject, it appears that, for the Saudis and other Arab countries in the region at least, Iran’s nuclear program is not the most immediate threat — they are more concerned with Iran’s attempts to make mischief across the region, as demonstrated by the ongoing Houthi conflict in Yemen.

This underlying sense of suspicion is evident in a recent editorial by the Peninsula (Qatar), which, commenting on the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) stance toward Iran and the proposed nuclear deal, suggested: “The regional bloc is suspicious of its giant neighbor’s growing influence and doubts Tehran’s promises to dismantle its nuclear programme. But there is a realization that a deal is inevitable, and opposing it would be counterproductive....Washington has been disengaging from a region which is mired in conflict, a region which has lost most of its importance because of the shifting political and economic sands. It’s this situation which the Gulf states are trying to reverse, because Washington has a duty to protect its allies at a time of conflict and crises. And by listening to their concerns, the U.S. will be reaffirming its commitment to the security and stability of this region.”

Given the perceived realignment of U.S. priorities in the Middle East, the Daily Star’s (Lebanon) Michel Moawad warned that the countries with a stake in regional stability, would do well to “Keep an eye on Iran’s regional moves…. any sanctions relief that follows a final agreement should be coupled with measures to curb Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East. The failure to do so would empower Tehran and provide it with the financial means to further pursue its sectarian-driven agenda in the Arab world. This will transform the region into a time bomb that threatens both Africa and Europe, despite Obama’s reassurances. …Arab states believe that the true danger lies in Iran’s determination to export the Islamic revolution beyond its borders through its sponsorship of sectarian militias in the Arab world and its continuous attempts to fuel strife and undermine the security of Arab countries.”

The Saudis have decided not to accept Iran’s expansion without a fight, which explains their recent involvement in Yemen. The purpose of this involvement, according to a recent Arab News (Saudi Arabia) editorial, is none other than to convince Iran that to learn to play by the rules: “The international community well understands Iran’s malevolent meddling. The support given to the Saudi-led Decisive Storm air operation, to halt the Yemen rebels in their tracks, is proof that it accepts the need for firm and unflinching responses to Iranian adventurism. This makes it a mystery that the nuclear negotiations have not been broadened to secure a wider outcome....Forcing Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program was never the key issue. A Middle East nuclear arms race is, as King Salman said, a terrible threat. But he also looked to the wider issue of convincing Iran to revert to being a good neighbor. Thus reaching a wide agreement based on a commitment not to interfere in the affairs of other states is crucial.”

The Khaleej Times editorial staff believes that there is no better way for Iran to show that it wants to have a constructive engagement with its neighbors than by acting responsibly in Yemen: “The efforts that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the U.S. are making to ensure that Yemen’s territorial integrity and sovereignty is secured cannot succeed in isolation, and other regional powers, and especially Iran, should also come in with tangible input. Tehran’s proposals to broker a ceasefire and enter into a broad-based dialogue incidentally coincide with what Kerry has hinted at. These are the testing times for the partners in peace, and it is here that each of them has to look at the bigger picture. Rising above petty interests will help broker a congenial solution.”

Al Arabiya’s Majid Rafizadeh believes there is little evidence Iran is willing to make the necessary changes; if anything it appears to have become emboldened by the nuclear arms program talks: “Based on the latest developments, Iranian leaders and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps do not seem to have changed their attitude of hostage-taking and ratcheting up their influence. Recently Iranian leaders have broken another ‘redline’ set by President Obama, which was articulated in a letter in 2012, with regards to the Strait of Hormuz....Although redlines have been crossed repeatedly, President Obama is likely to continue his conciliatory stance with Iran in order to reach a final nuclear deal....all these developments and remarks indicate the fact that empowering the moderate in Iran is not weakening the hardliners, but emboldening the hardliners, primarily the IRGC and Quds forces to pursue their regional hegemonic objectives.”

It is in Yemen where, according to Asharq Alawsat’s Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, Iranian plans for greater influence in the region have run against the stubborn opposition of the Saudi-led coalition: “the Iranians and their allies are trying to escalate the situation via the media by intensifying coverage of events to the extent that the war has become the most covered affair in the region. They believe that Yemen will be a swamp that will entrench and preoccupy Saudi Arabia allowing Tehran to run riot in other areas of the Middle East....There are also unremitting attempts to support the ‘Saleh-Houthi’ camp by sending weapons and experienced fighters. These attempts have so far failed due to the naval and aerial embargo on the country.”

Some wonder whether the Saudi state can handle the balance between the economic needs of its people as well as the need for security. For Mshari Al-Zaydi there is no doubt that the Saudi kingdom possesses the necessary resources to do so: “There is a lot of talk about what is happening in Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbor, and we have heard many people warn Riyadh, and the Arab Gulf in general, against getting embroiled in a ‘war of attrition’ in Yemen. Some people have said this out of fear for Saudi safety and security, while others—particularly those in the Iran-backed Lebanese media—have issued warnings in a different manner, almost gloating over the situation Riyadh now finds itself in.... this is certainly not what is happening now, and it is unlikely to happen in the future. ...Iran’s influence in Yemen has been set back and must be destroyed, this is the most important thing, everything else is detail....Patience, vision and decisiveness are needed to complete the task. Saudi Arabia is capable of striking the difficult balance between war and peace and emerging on top.”


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