Search form

Last updated: 58 min 44 sec ago

You are here

Arab conciliation or confrontation with Iran?

An animosity has been present for a long time toward Iran in some Arab countries’ mind. It has sectarian connotations, but also strategic components. The degree of animosity varies from one Arab country to another and from one period to another.  

Saudi Arabia had misgivings because of the Iran nuclear program and voiced them several times. In a US Riyadh Embassy cable of April 20, 2008, published by WikiLeaks, Adel Al-Jubair, then-Saudi ambassador to the US, was quoted as having recalled late Saudi King Abdullah’s frequent exhortations to the US “to cut off the head of the snake (meaning Iran).” The late Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal was in favor of tougher sanctions toward Iran including a travel ban and further restrictions on bank lending. He even did not rule out military action. 

In another classified WikiLeaks cable sent on Nov. 4, 2009, by the US Embassy in the Bahraini capital Manama, King Hamad of Bahrain was quoted to suggest terminating “Iran’s nuclear program by whatever means necessary.” 

Again in a WikiLeaks cable of the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi in April 2006, the UAE ruler was quoted to say “the threat from Al-Qaeda would be minor if Iran has nuclear weapons.” However, he was not in favor of a military action that might provoke retaliation. 

Saudi Arabia raised this question several times with various US administrations, pointing out that if Iran’s nuclear program is not stopped, other countries in the region will be entitled to acquire nuclear weapons. The US must have given Saudi Arabia convincing assurances that it should not worry, as Riyadh voiced its worries less loudly later on. 

The Gulf countries’ threat perception from Iran must have been one of the subjects that dominated the talks during the Arab Summit held in Amman on March 28. The Summit’s final communiqué, without mentioning Iran’s name, refers to “the importance of boosting Arab solidarity in the face of regional challenges stressing the need for a stronger and more unified Arab action that would help resolve common issues.”

The Middle East is already laden with all sorts of crises. An escalation in the relations with Iran will further complicate the situation. All efforts should be deployed to prevent further worsening of the stability in the region. 

Yasar Yakis

A concrete step was made during the meeting to improve this solidarity. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi took a timely initiative by announcing that Iran’s increasing influence had to be confronted, a step welcomed by Saudi Arabia. The relations between these two major Arab countries were not at the desired level. A step had to be taken to bring them back on track. President El-Sisi’s statement accomplished this task. Egypt may not have felt threatened by Iran, but it did not want to miss the opportunity of acting together with other Sunni Arab countries.  

There is a favorable atmosphere for taking an action against Iran, because there is a widespread feeling among the Sunni countries in the region that Iran’s preponderance in Iraq, Syria and, to a limited extent, in Yemen is on the rise. Some Gulf countries are cautious in taking steps that may antagonize Iran, others are less cautious.  

The invisible elephant in the room is of course Israel, with its ability to move its farms to areas where it rains. It is fervently in favor of any measure that will tarnish Iran’s image in the international arena, especially after the signing of the Iran nuclear deal. President Trump opposed the deal since the early days of his presidential election campaign. “My number one priority, he used to say, is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran” that he described as catastrophic for America, for Israel and for the whole of the Middle East.  

In line with this general attitude toward Iran, the US has already increased its support for Saudi Arabia and UAE in the form of providing intelligence and logistics.  

It is not yet clear whether the majority of the Arab countries will adopt a confrontational or conciliatory course toward Iran. Kuwait’s Emir Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah said in his address to the Amman Summit that dialogue should be used for regional security and stability. This cautious call may prevail as the time goes by, because there are other Gulf countries such as Oman that are in favor of dialogue rather than tension.  

The Middle East is already laden with all sorts of crises. An escalation in the relations with Iran will further complicate the situation. All efforts should be deployed to prevent further worsening of the stability in the region. 

• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party.