War is looming over the region more than ever before. While it is unlikely, at least for now, that the current tension will reach a level of a direct military confrontation in the Gulf, in the event that a war does break out, it will mean that the Gulf region, even the entire Arab region will be in for major strategic changes.
Although the war is still not likely, there are a number of motives and reasons that may lead to it. First and foremost, the United States and Israel want an environment conducive to the “deal of the century” and they are trying to force the Arabs to accept it, just as in the early 1990s, when Iraq’s defeat in the war was the prelude to signing the Oslo Accords in 1993 and the Wadi Araba agreement in 1994.
Another reason or motive for the war is the Saudi desire to engage in a direct and deterrent military confrontation with Iran, after over four years of indirect war between Riyadh and Tehran in Yemen, which Saudi Arabia has not been able to win. Instead, the matter continues to snowball due to the threat posed by the Houthis to Saudi Arabia’s security, which has increased over the past four years instead of decreasing. It reached its climax with the recent drone attacks on oil facilities deep into Saudi territory.
There are a number of motives and justifications that make the war a possibility and a potential, albeit unlikely, option as it is likely that Washington is still adhering to the policy of withdrawal from the Middle East. We clearly witnessed this in Syria. Moreover, Israel probably believes that any comprehensive war in the region will lead to a direct and serious threat to its security and could engage in a multi-lateral confrontation.
The main question is what could happen or what would change in the region if a war between the US and Iran breaks out? The answer is as follows:
First, a war in the Gulf region will lead to a record-high increase in oil prices, which could return the prices to over $100 a barrel, and could even be higher than the $130-$140 mark. This is especially the case if Saudi Arabia is a direct party in the war, as the kingdom is the world’s largest producer of crude oil and a major player in the market.
Second, a direct war with Iran will definitely lead to the expansion of the area of military tension and war in Yemen and Syria, which means further bloodshed and security deterioration in the entire Arab region. This will also involve new numbers of refugees, displaced persons, casualties and wounded. It will also result in the deterioration of living standards for citizens in the entire Arab region.
Thirdly, we all know about the high costs of the potential US war on Iran will be paid by the Gulf States, and they may have already started paying the price of the US deployment in the region. We are talking about hundreds of billions of dollars. These costs are not officially announced, but based on the Iraq war, unofficial American reports have estimated costs at about $14 billion a month for ground and naval deployment in the Gulf. These are enormous costs when we add them to the cost of supporting the government in Egypt, meaning the wealthiest Arab countries will experience economic crises, not to mention the poor countries or those who lived on the aid from these wealthy countries.
Fourth, Iran’s reaction cannot be predicted, as Iran possesses long-range ballistic missiles, as well as an established presence in four Arab countries, two of which share a border with Israel.
The bottom line is that the Arab region could drastically change forever if there is a full-scale war between the United States and the Gulf states on the one hand and Iran on the other. However, so far, it is unlikely that this war will occur and the situation will instead remain limited to verbal escalations and a war of statements between the two sides.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 20 May 2019
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.