Bob Gates went to the Gulf and said Iran was a clear and present security threat to the region. But the situation as perceived by the Gulf States themselves is rather more complex - they're watching as Iran, the U.S. and Israel pit themselves against each other and working the angles for Arab benefit. In this, the Gulf Arabs aren't working as individual states, but as a co-ordinated body in anticipation of the Gulf Common Market - which takes effect in January and is highly likely to eventually include Iran.
Today, neocon Max Boot writes that, privately, the Gulf States are very worried about iran's regional ambitions. He even goes as far as to compare the Gulf nation's military might to Iran's and hint that the Arab states should solve Israel's problem for them. But if he was indeed told of Arab fears privately, it must have been very privately. In similiar vein, Powerline's Scott Johnson quotes an israeli conservative analyst friend of his that pictures "of Iranian President Mahmaoud Ahmadinejad walking “hand in hand” with Saudi leader King Abdullah at the Gulf Cooperation Council’s annual Summit in Doah, Qatar" show "how terrified the Sunni Arab establishment -- particularly the Gulf states -- are of Iran’s rising power." Huh?
All wishful thinking aside, public statements, and revealing actions, from the Gulf States show a willingness to play all other parties off against each other.
In response to Gates' statements on Iran, senior Gulf officials insisted that Tel Aviv was the greater threat to the Middle East.
"Israel is a source of threats. Any country that can attack its neighbours is a source of threats. There has to be a feeling of security, and we do not use a language of confrontation and aggression. We want to build relations of mutual trust and respect," Bahrain's Crown Prince Shaikh Salman told journalists on the sidelines of the conference. "We have seen numerous wars and we do not wish to see another war in the region."Quatar's PM went even further, asking why, if they could go to Annapolis to talk to Israel, the U.S. cannot talk directly ot Iran. "Direct talks do not mean agreeing (from the start) with the other party," he told Gates as he and other Gulf statesmen said that they wanted the military option off the table. The GCC States also said at their recent Doha Sunmmit that they "will not go along with the United States in its pursuit to isolate or impose sanctions on Iran". Some fear.
Qatar's Prime Minister Hamad Bin Jasem Bin Jabr Al Thani in his speech immediately following Gates' remarks refused to consider Iran as the enemy.
"Iran is an important neighbour that cannot be seen as an enemy. We have had problems with Iran since the days of the Shah when Tehran occupied the three islands, but we cannot compare Iran with Israel," he said. "We at the GCC do have concerns about Iran, but we need to reach an understanding because there would be grave consequences for any military escalation."
GCC Secretary-General Abdul Rahman Al Attiyah said that Gates' statement that Israel did not represent any threat was "biased politics that reflected a determination to hold onto double standards".
The Arab states are looking at an economic future that includes Iran as a part of their common market - probably at around the same time as the member states transition to a unified currency, which makes Iran's refusal to take dollars even more interesting. Why would they want war or even sanctins interfering with business with such an important economic partner?
But U.S. fear of Iran, stoked by Israeli fears, are very useful for one thing - access to state-of-the-art weaponry systems. The Bush administration has notified Congress of its intent to sell $9 billion worth of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile defense system to the UAE - and Gates made it clear in his speech yesterday that the U.S. wants to see such a capable anti-missile and anti-aircraft shield extended to all the Gulf States. The U.S. also intends selling AWACS aircraft to the UAE and more patriots to Kuwait. The Saudis intend upgrading their existing AWACS capability and F-15 strike fighters as well as buying more than $100 billion in other weapons and aircraft from the U.S. and UK - all funded by oil sold at record prices due to regional tensions. At least someone in the West (arms manufacturers and oil companies) is doing well from tensions over Iran, eh?
It won't have escaped either Arab or Israeli notice that such defenses would be just as much of a defense against Israeli missiles and airstrikes as it would against Iranian ones. It's pretty clear where the Arab nations expect the attacks to originate. But by the time the Gulf nations are finished making all these purchases, Iran will be a far smaller giant militarily, and so a more acceptable trading partner. (Oh, and did I mention the Gulf State's intention to become nuclear nations themselves? Although they say without weapons.) So, for now, the Gulf states have a vested interest in making polite noises about the threat of Iranian hegemony in the region.
As the last leg of the triangle, Annapolis and the Bush administration's new-found determination to get involved in Arab-Israeli peace accords means that the recalcitrant Israelis are handing the Arabs a newfound opportunity to insert wedges between Tel Aviv and Washington. Condi has already met her first deliberate prevarication and isn't happy about it. Life is looking good for the new Arab common market.
Now, none of this is to say that Iran, the U.S. and Israel aren't trying to work their own triangles - of course they are. But the simplistic viewpoint presented by much of the U.S. media - that the Arab nations are totally alongside the Bush administration in seeing Iran as a massive regional threat - is just wrong and based upon stenographic repetition of the wishful thinking of those who have an axe to grind over Iran.
Update More triangles. The AP is reporting that Iraq's National Security Adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie has called on the US to engage with Iran:
"The United States, until they seriously engage with Iran ... the long-term regional security will be in doubt," al-Rubaie said on the final day of a regional security summit in the Bahraini capital Manama.What the AP isn't saying is going to be even more of a shock to neocon systems. Iraq wants more than just direct US/Iran engagement:
...Al-Rubaie's push for greater U.S. interaction with Iran was an uncomfortable reminder that Washington's greatest enemy in the Mideast is also the country most closely tied to the predominantly Shiite government in Iraq - the nation in the region where the U.S. has the most at stake.
"It is feasible for the government of Iraq to have on one side the strategic ally, the United States of America, and on the other side, we have a good relationship with Iran," said al-Rubaie, a Shiite. "I believe they are not mutually exclusive."
Iraq's national security adviser yesterday called on Gulf states to form a regional security pact, which would include Iran, while he reassured the area's US allies that Baghdad is "heading West" in its foreign policies.Ouch, that one's going to leave a mark.
But Mouaffak al-Rubaie also criticised Saudi Arabia and Iran for what he called settling scores on Iraqi soil and called for regional reconciliation that put sectarian differences aside.
"It is extremely important to have a regional reconciliation rather than having this heightened sectarian tension in the region," he told delegates at a security conference held in the Bahraini capital.
"That is why Iraq is looking seriously to call for a regional security pact like the good old (1954 anti-Soviet alliance) Baghdad Pact or a Nato-style pact, with a set agenda: counter terrorism, counter narcotics, counter religious extremism and counter sectarianism," he said.
The Iraqi official said security in the region was "indivisible. You cannot stabilise Iraq and destabilise Iran, for example."
Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi meanwhile agreed that Iran should be included in any regional security arrangement.