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The American whale and Russian bear in the Gulf

August 5, 2015 at 8:56 am

This week, Doha is hosting US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. Their visit is being made after the signing of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) in early July; it was signed after negotiations lasting 12 years. Iran has benefitted greatly from the agreement. The US says that it has stopped Iran from achieving the knowledge to produce nuclear weapons. Russia also achieved strategic objectives from the deal.

The Gulf States are now concerned about their security as well as their political and economic future in the wake of the agreement. Those monitoring and concerned with the Gulf’s security will have noticed the increased level of terrorism in the area over the past few weeks even though, it is worth noting, the agreement has still not been put into effect. There have been bombings and arrests in Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, as well as the smuggling of weapons, explosives and well-trained people, according to Gulf media. Not a week goes by in Bahrain that we do not hear threats and incitement against the country’s security from senior Iranian officials. Saudi Arabia is being attacked on its southern borders by Houthi militias trained and armed by Iran. Don’t these countries have a right to be concerned for their security and sovereignty after Iran became a member of the nuclear club and has been recognised as a powerful and influential force in the Gulf region?

Kerry came to the Gulf in order to express America’s reassurances to the Gulf Cooperation Council that the agreement with Iran will not be at the expense of their security and stability, and that the US remains committed to its obligations regarding the GCC member states in case of any foreign aggression. The US, though, will not prevent Iran from interfering in the security of the region by proxy through its supporters and sleeper cells. US President Barack Obama told GCC leaders at Camp David in May: “I cannot guarantee anything more than protection from a direct Iranian attack. As for Iran’s tools — Hezbollah, the Syrian regime and the Houthis — that is your responsibility. Take action or remain silent.” This is a very forthright statement.

However, did the US tell Iran or any other party explicitly that the security of the GCC states is a red line, just as it has said that Israel’s security is a red line? I would like to ask the Obama administration what the difference is between Iran’s occupation of four Arab capitals, which its leaders have claimed, and Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait. The latter saw a military response which stripped Iraq of all of its military, economic and social strength, ending with its occupation by US-led coalition troops.

President Obama says that those opposed to the nuclear deal with Iran did not present an alternative and were content with verbal opposition. All of the alternatives are in the hands of the US president and they include conducting an inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in accordance with a Security Council resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The inspection should include all Iranian territory in order to uncover its stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and destroy it. Iran’s long-range ballistic missiles must also be destroyed, and it must not be allowed to produce rockets with a range of more than a dozen metres. Successive US governments have set precedents in this regard, the most recent of which was in Iraq during the 1990s.

Moreover, America does not hesitate to sell arms to the Arab Gulf states for defensive purposes only; they cannot threaten the security of any US allies, including Israel and, now, Iran.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov went to the Gulf in order to hear at first-hand what will be said to Kerry and say that Moscow is willing to become a reliable and trusted friend of the GCC states. Russia has already proven its sincere friendship with the Syrian government and has prevented the fall of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. It has also supplied Iran with nuclear reactors to produce fuel but which can easily be converted for military purposes. While the P5+1 talks with Iran were taking place in Vienna, Moscow also announced that it will build eight new reactors. Two will be built on Iran’s Gulf coastline at Bushehr, which in itself poses a threat to the water and fish stocks.

Moscow’s strong emergence in the region reflects the conflict between the Russian bear and the American whale. The former wants to take revenge on the West for its position on the Ukrainian issue and the imposition of sanctions on Russia. Some believe that the agreements signed between Russia and Iran regarding the nuclear issue are a blow to the Europeans; to be honest, it is also a blow to the GCC states.

I will end by saying that I hope our leaders will realise that they cannot trust the promises of the world superpowers. They must rely on their internal strengths and reconsider all their past policies regarding arms, the economy and alliances.

Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadid, 3 August, 2015.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.