Coexistence between the two banks of the Gulf is possible
The long-standing exchange of terse rhetoric between Arab and Iranian media outlets — an exchange driven by the region’s volatile political and security developments — does not preclude the possibility of the exact opposite being an alternative. However, this is difficult when hostile rhetoric and attacks on the Arab and Gulf states have been — and remain — the prevalent language of the printed, visual and audio media outlets on the eastern bank of the Arabian Gulf.
Iranian media outlets have been relentless in their vicious attacks on the Arabian Gulf states’ leaders and have never paused, let alone terminated, their efforts to incite tensions and hostilities or play on the people’s sectarian heartstrings by every means possible. Politicians in Iran attempt to opportunistically take advantage of any event, whatever its significance, to harness these outlets for media mobilization and constantly make hostile remarks against neighboring countries as part of the policy of the ruling system in Tehran. This is an approach that seems to be based on promoting hostility toward the outside world in an attempt to unite their domestic audience and deflect attention away from the multiple urgent crises facing Iran at home, which the Velayat-e Faqih regime attempts to postpone or evade.
On the other side of the Gulf, we find that Arab media outlets adopt a position of self-defense and attempt to address the Iranian regime’s ferocious propaganda campaign through pursuing a tit-for-tat approach. Arab media outlets are less fierce and more circumspect than their Iranian counterparts and prefer to adopt a calmer tone.
Those who follow these media exchanges will find that the rhetoric from Arab media outlets remains limited to a certain degree and does not become so heated as to involve the political leaderships. By contrast, we find that the most incendiary and hostile statements emanating from Iran are made by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the highest political and religious authority in the country, and are echoed by the president of the republic, the ministers, military commanders, and media outlets and columnists. This hostile propaganda and rhetoric has gone far beyond the political sphere, even including sports headlines. In the past week alone, we have seen headlines in an Iranian sports newspaper gloating at the prospect of vengeance, harsh revenge and retaliation after 20 years, both before and after a football game between Bahrain and Iran.
It may be that suggesting the option of pursuing a policy of coexistence and abandoning this hostile rhetoric considering the current simmering political climate in the region is over-optimistic and categorized as an effort to “swim upstream” against the prevailing negative tide. As tensions have escalated, the hostile rhetoric has become evident, noticed by all those who follow these matters.
We should be cognizant, however, that eventually both Iran and the Arab states have no option but to coexist — although neither of the two sides has a genuine desire to reconcile for the time being — to avoid further tensions, which could lead to an even more serious escalation. That would be a lose-lose proposition for both sides.
It would be better for everyone to foster a climate of coexistence, cooperation and mutually beneficial opportunities to advance the shared interests of the two sides, rather than perpetuating the cycle of conflict that we experience today. Our situation and geographic proximity dictate that Arabs and Iranians, more particularly the latter, should opt for cooperation and understanding and abandon hostile rhetoric.
The most crucial question that automatically concerns those considering this option is how best to foster this positive spirit of coexistence based on mutual respect and avoidance of unwelcome attempts at interference or intervention in each other’s affairs.
I am confident that Iran will face no difficulty when it comes to an Arab commitment to good neighborliness, as well as compliance with basic principles and international charters regarding any attempts to bridge the gap between Arabs and Iranians. Sadly, however, Arab states, more especially the Gulf states — for multiple reasons and due to many and diverse experiences — will remain suspicious of showing any openness to Iran unless Tehran bravely acknowledges all the mistakes of the past and pledges to turn over a new page with the Gulf states.
This new page must be based on respecting the independence of the Gulf states and abandoning its intransigence on the outstanding issues, such as the dispute over the three occupied Emirati islands. This is in addition to accepting the need for a total cessation of threats to the security and stability of Bahrain and ending support for terrorist militias in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Equally or, to me at least, even more importantly, Iranian politicians must realize that the era of creating empires inspired by nationalist and narcissistic sentiments has gone forever and that seeking to restore the imperial past is some sort of insane delusion based on grandiose fantasies that cannot, at any cost, be realized on the ground, let alone accepted by the world.
We can coexist harmoniously with Iran once again, as we did before the 1979 revolution. Iran is, after all, a neighboring country with whose peoples we have deeply rooted historical bonds. More importantly, Iran is our permanent neighbor; wishing for another neighbor, or at least a less aggressive one, will not change geographic reality.
It would be better for everyone to foster a climate of coexistence, cooperation and mutually beneficial opportunities.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
Restoring confidence between the two sides and building clear and transparent trust will require that Iran abandons its pride, objectively reassesses the reality, without an inflated ego, and abandons its ultranationalist and supremacist tendencies. Doing so would significantly help in mending relations between the two sides. Other steps required for recalibrating relations and returning to a positive neighborly relationship would be resolving the outstanding and accumulated issues between Iran and the Gulf states through engaging in serious and genuine negotiations, totally different from the Iranian regime’s usual ambiguous media statements, the political “taqiya,” and roleplay between the Iranian state and its revolutionary theocratic rulers.
As all these points show, reaching the stage of positive neighborly relations will be exceptionally tough and complex — but it is not impossible. The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single steady, sincere and firm step toward the future, which is inevitable, whether under the current Iranian regime or without it.
In the end, let us whisper the following words into the ears of Iran’s decision-makers: “The policy of pursuing hostility toward the outside world to secure the home front has proven unsuccessful throughout history. The safest and most useful orientation is represented by bravely addressing the critical issues at home and reconciling with the outside world with sincere intentions. Whenever this balance is shaken, the threat is doubled — both at home and overseas. Yet Iran is already preparing for a new chance represented by the upcoming change of government.”
Although this change in government will be ineffective when it comes to changing the Iranian regime’s foreign policy, it does offer a chance to reverse Iran’s current hostile orientation.
- Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami