In recent history, I believe Iran has been one of the most troublesome countries in the region, a chronic spoiler stymieing efforts to bring about political cooperation for the majority’s gain.
It has never had positive relations with countries in the Gulf, neither under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, or after its revolution. The Shah continually sought to impose his opinions on other countries, which obviously harmed diplomatic relations. The country under Ruhollah Khomeini did no better by wanting to export its revolution, a move that others saw as a threat to their sovereignty and security.
These actions have caused a deep rift with Gulf countries. There have been bursts of rapprochement, but such efforts are continually undermined by short-sighted and radical Iranian leaders. Their main aim has been complete hegemony in the region.
Iran is undoubtedly an important nation with considerable regional influence. This fact cannot be ignored, but its plans have left the country politically isolated, with many viewing its intentions with much suspicion.
Politics is the art of discussing possibilities and not the delusion of mixing political narcissism with religious and historical achievements.
Political realities on the ground should be the overriding factor in talks to ensure good relations. Iran has previously demonstrated it is capable of taking pragmatic decisions when Khomeini decided to end the war with Iraq and then attempt to seek out secret ties with America, its “Great Satan.”
Today, it is trying to do the same thing, pushed by the facts on the ground; its sluggish economy and increasingly restive citizens seeking better living standards and an end to the wastage of the country’s resources on external political disputes.
Iran is clearly different now and should use this new understanding of the world, based on its experiences over the past number of decades, to take mature political decisions. Diplomacy is the best way to achieve these goals.
The Gulf region has a stake in a modern and peaceful Iran because this would virtually assure unity and security for many parties, including economic benefits. Iran’s first step should be to adhere to international law by giving back three islands in the Strait of Hormuz to the United Arab Emirates.
Politics is all about power relations so it is also incumbent on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to get its affairs in order by forging a political and economic union. Speaking with one voice would help it gain the necessary traction and respect on regional and international platforms.
In addition, the Gulf countries can fill the current leadership vacuum in the Arab world by cementing ties with Egypt. I believe this would be a countermeasure to the regional designs of Turkey and Iran, but would also ensure it can develop beneficial relations with these two countries because it is speaking from a position of power.
People in the Middle East are tired of conflict and war, which has allowed poverty and terrorism to mushroom. It is time to put development and the interests of people at the forefront of all decision-making. The current crises can be a catalyst for change. Regional players should seize the opportunity to do so.
This article was first published in Arab News on Dec. 17, 2014.
Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi is the editor-in-chief of Sayidaty and al-Jamila magazines. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, al-Harthi later moved on to establish al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992. You can follow him on Twitter here: @mfalharthi