On 21 April, Riyadh hosted the second Gulf-US summit attended by six princes and kings from the countries within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and US President Barack Obama. A private meeting between Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Obama preceded the summit and addressed, for the fist time, the growing concerns regarding the Iranian threat. The US shares the GCC’s belief that Iran’s behaviour in the region has caused instability, despite Washington signing the nuclear deal with Tehran last year and its promise to lift sanctions and release billions of dollars which have been frozen. Wasn’t the deal meant to allow for Iran’s re-entry into the international community through the gateway of economic equality?
Obama knows with certainty the strength of the Islamic Alliance formed in March last year to attack Yemen, in addition to the Islamic coalition against terrorism that was announced in Riyadh a few months ago; all have held successful military exercises in the past month. Furthermore, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is calling for a vision of unification, which it announced in its thirteenth session in Istanbul earlier this month. It aims to pinpoint and attack the challenges brought about by racism, sectarianism and terrorism. All of the OIC member states have pointed the finger of blame at Iran for the problems in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Somalia, as well as some Gulf countries, over the past few years.
All of this has led America to think how best to invest in these emerging Islamic military and political movements and how to use them as a means not only to dodge its commitments to Iran but also to make new alliances that would better serve its interests. The US is particularly interested in engaging in a string of wars within the region, particularly the oil-rich Gulf, which represents the heart of the Islamic world. In fact, it is planning to ignite an Iranian-Arab conflict following the decision of the Istanbul summit to lay blame at Iran’s door. That decision brought to light the US desires for a Sunni-Shia war across the entire Muslim world.
Thus, the GCC-US summit was predetermined to a certain extent, but America will undoubtedly build a new foreign policy depending on what is agreed in Riyadh. Amidst such changes has to be added the recent announcement by Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter that the US will cooperate and coordinate militarily with the GCC countries in the event that they face threats from Iran. He made his statement after meeting with his GCC counterparts. Carter also expressed the need to confront the threats from Daesh and address the worsening situation in Syria.
What is important at this point is that the US will build a new policy according to the decision made in Istanbul, which insinuated that Iran is responsible for the rise of sectarianism in the Islamic world. Although Iran is clearly unhappy with this, there are fears that it will simply accept the outcome of the Istanbul decision rather than modify its current policy in the region. An official announced recently that the OIC will regret its decision to insult Iran. “No insult of this kind was made towards Iran before the formation of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation,” added Mohsen Rezai, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Hence, the Istanbul decision did little more than worsen the tension between Iran and the Arab world, rather than elicit an apology from Tehran; that was the initial goal by which the OIC hoped to change the current Iranian policies of sectarianism, racism and terrorism.
The new US policy in the region aims to encourage GCC leaders to act as a voice of progress within the Middle East, particularly in matters that concern Iran. As such, the role and responsibilities of the GCC countries do not depend on criticising Iran’s sectarian politics, or on establishing a stronger alliance with America, but on a series of steps that would allow them to win their case. It is not merely a question of starting a new war in the region, because allying with the US has its own set of consequences. The main reason for this lies in America’s strategic and security based alliance with Iran since at least 2001, though which Washington has been working towards diminishing Iran’s nuclear capabilities for the past ten years. The US alliance with Iran extends much further than questions surrounding the nuclear file, though, as it is now working with Iran in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, in the sense that Iran faces no opposition from America in those countries. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard has been sending its militias to Syria without US opposition and an agreement was signed between Russia and America ending hostilities between the two countries (in Syria) on 22 February.
Saudi Defence Minister Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, the second in line to the throne after the crown prince, suggested that it is essential for the GCC to work towards combatting terrorism as well as Iran’s interference in the region. The meeting held between Carter and the GCC defence ministers gave the latter some reassurance on the technical and practical political front. The US secretary of defence expressed his willingness to help and participate in the battle against terrorism in the quest to achieve stability in the region. Carter said that the US is committed to ensuring the security and the stability of the GCC member states. “Many issues have been called into question,” he added, “the most important one being defeating Daesh, and secondly, confronting Iran, which threatens the stability of the region.” Carter’s statements were clear in that he called out Iran by name.
The Secretary-General of the GCC, Abdul-Latif Al-Zayani, went on to confirm the same points stressed by Carter. “It was agreed with the US minister to conduct join maritime patrols in an effort to prevent weapon smuggling to and from Iran and other conflict zones in the region,” he announced. Al-Zayani and Carter’s suggestions can be linked to Iran’s threats almost a year ago to dominate and control the Persian Gulf and all of the ships that use the waterway. All ships which use it are now under threat from the Iranian navy, which has the capabilities to control the Gulf. When Iran captured a group of American sailors in January it did so to prove a point; they were released after six hours when Washington threatened that it would not sign the nuclear deal. Despite this, the US has recently taken to involving the GCC states in direct clashes with the Iranian Navy in the Persian Gulf.
It is hard, therefore, to take US cooperation with the GCC or OIC seriously with regards to Iranian threats. This is merely America’s way of investing in more wars in the region. For that reason, it is the responsibility of the Gulf States to demand that the US proves its good intentions to work with the GCC by putting pressure on Iran to end its support for the Houthis in Yemen. They must then ask the US department of defence to demand the end of Iran’s military presence in Syria followed by the withdrawal of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Lebanon’s Hezbollah from Syria and Iraq. The US cannot reasonably be investing in the safety of both the GCC and securing Iranian interests. After all, the Iranian threat is not facing the GCC alone, but also the entire region.
The US desire to cooperate and work with the GCC countries, especially with regards to military and naval training to confront the lack of stability caused by Iran, will undoubtedly work towards achieving a greater sense of stability within the Middle East rather than increasing tension. The recent accusation by the OIC against Iran was aimed at redirecting the government in Tehran and its misguided policies, not at another battle with it, whether in the Gulf or elsewhere.
In this regard, one must remember the article written by James Lyons for the Washington Times about a month ago in which he argued that Iran is a hostile state towards the US but it is the US that encouraged Iran to be hostile. The reason for this is that America makes moves in more than one political and military sphere and works on multiple fronts to meet its own interests. It is for this reason that the GCC members should demand that the US prove its credibility so that they could in turn coordinate with the US rather then find themselves in the middle of new wars in the region.
Translated from AlKhaleejOnline, 24 April 2016.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.