Iran and Gulf states: Between blindness and hallucination

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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In a recent interview with The Atlantic magazine, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter blamed Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries for not confronting Iran regionally. “If you look at where the Iranians are able to wield influence, they are in the game, on the ground. There is a sense that some of the Gulf states are up there at 30,000 feet,” said Carter.

However, others’ statements in the U.S. press oppose his opinion. In a recent article in the New York Times, Carol Giacomo - a member of the newspaper’s editorial board - said: “It doesn’t take long in Saudi Arabia to see evidence of an obsession with Iran.” So are Gulf countries blind to Tehran’s threats, or do they suffer from hallucinations of an Iran syndrome? The answer is somewhere in between.

Gulf countries are in a state of multi-front confrontation with Iran. They have been funding the Syrian opposition for four years now. They are fighting their biggest war in Yemen against Iran’s followers, who seized power by force and took the government hostage. There are other tense zones, including Libya. As Carter casts blame, he can see that Iran is clearly present in every disturbed area via its proxies.

Are Gulf countries blind to Tehran’s threats, or do they suffer from hallucinations of an Iran syndrome? The answer is somewhere in between.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The huge Shiite Lebanese organization Hezbollah completely lives off Iran’s funds and arms. There are also the Sunni Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Gaza, the extremist Shiite opposition in Bahrain, and Ansar Allah, which Tehran established in northern Yemen right on the Saudi border. Many Iraqi organizations work for Iran, such as the League of the Righteous and the Iraqi Hezbollah. Tehran has also sent its militias to fight in Syria under the command of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

Crisis management

Tehran has always stirred problems in the region. Its appetite for trouble increased ever since it launched negotiations with the West regarding its nuclear program. Iran now thinks the West no longer wants to confront it. However, unlike what Carter’s statements imply, tension does not call for raising the degree of confrontation with Tehran. Managing the crisis with Iran today is certainly not easy, and requires strictness and wisdom.

Riyadh would not have let Iran take over Yemen via its Houthi proxy. Otherwise, Saudi Arabia would end up besieged to the north (Iraq) and south (Yemen). Riyadh has also not given up supporting the Syrian people and opposition against the Syrian regime, which is a major ally of Iran.

Despite the difficult circumstances and crises, Tehran will lose in Syria and Yemen. It will lose in Syria due to the extent of hostility against it and the regime. It will lose in Yemen because the Gulf states are the givers and not the thieves, unlike Iran in Iraq, for example. Meanwhile, Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites are rejecting Iranian domination. The Shiite city of Najaf is leading an administrative rebellion against Iranian influence in Baghdad.

We cannot imagine Iranian control of a number of tense zones in the Middle East - this would be costly for everyone. Tehran will continue to be a source of tension and clashes, especially since it thinks Washington will decrease its regional presence after the nuclear deal.

This article first appeared in Asharq al-Awsat on Nov. 23, 2015.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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