May 25, 2015 No.

Saudi Writer: Saudi Arabia, Which Is At The Forefront Of The Iranian Threat, Requires A United Gulf Position Against Iran

Following President Obama's statement at the May 14, 2015 Camp David summit that the U.S. would increase security cooperation with the Gulf states in light of the regional Iranian threat, Daoud Al-Shiryan, a columnist for the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat, published an article discussing Saudi Arabia's complex situation vis-à-vis the nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and Iran. Al-Shiryan said that, in contrast to what is claimed by many in the Gulf media, the U.S. nuclear negotiations with Iran are not a renouncement of its longtime alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, but are a sincere American attempt to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The real problem, Al-Shiryan argued, is that the Gulf states themselves lack a unified position vis-à-vis Iran, and some of them hold ties with Iran and are employing a "dual policy" towards this country. For example, he pointed to the ties between the UAE and Iran, which the two call "strategic," and to Qatar's close ties with Iran and its call to involve it in maintaining the region's security. According to him, Saudi Arabia, which is at the forefront of the Iranian threat, requires Gulf unity regarding Iran more than it requires tighter security cooperation with Washington.

The following are excerpts from the article:[1]

"U.S. President Barack Obama declared that Washington would assist the Arab Gulf states in dealing with any conventional military threat similar to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and would improve security cooperation [with them] in order to assuage their fears regarding Iranian actions that destabilize the region. These calming remarks were not reflected in the media in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, [which] instead 'inflated' the disagreements between Washington and Riyadh regarding the American-Iranian negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program. The Iranian-American negotiations do not mean that Washington has washed its hands of the security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Rather, they are a realistic [American] attempt to deal with the Iranian issue and with the [possibility] that it will possess nuclear weapons, out of a desire to stop it. Despite doubts [that were expressed] regarding the U.S.'s concern for the security of the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] states, the American message conveyed by Obama's comments was clear: We will act to prevent any attempt to harm the GCC states. 

"Some Gulf writers, attempting to describe the future of security relations between Washington and Riyadh, claimed that the American administration has decided to relinquish its alliance with Saudi Arabia, which goes back to the 1930s, in favor of Tehran. This claim has no grounding in reality. At the same time, no one [in the Gulf] discussed the nature of the relations of each of the Gulf states [themselves] with Iran and the danger [these relations] pose to Saudi Arabia's security. They spoke of Iranian threats as though the Gulf states were a single bloc... but the fact is that the relations between Tehran and several Gulf capitals do not reflect the [stated] position [of those countries] regarding [the events in] the Gulf.

"Thus, for example, Oman has no problems with Iran, and relations between the two have remained at the same high level of coordination and mutual understanding since the start of the Iranian revolution and to this day. The UAE is the Gulf state that is most economically open to Iran, and Abu Dhabi's position was closer to neutral during the Iran-Iraq war, when it strove to end the conflict. In fact, [the UAE] is Iran's main partner in the region and has a large Iranian expat community [whose members own] hundreds of [commercial] firms. During the past year, there have been mutual visits by officials from both countries that strengthened these ties, which in official statements were defined as strategic. Moreover, the UAE has expressed support for the Iranian-Western nuclear agreement. As for Qatar, it has always been the [Gulf] state closest to Iran, and strove for a balance between its relations with Iran and its status as a GCC [member]. Qatar was the first one to end the boycott on Iran and even called to involve it in maintaining the region's security, being its largest and strongest [country].

"Undoubtedly, the regional threat posed by Iran is directed chiefly at Saudi Arabia, while the [claim that there is an overall] threat to the Gulf states is inaccurate in detail and untrue in general. Therefore, even before it requires tighter military cooperation with Washington, Saudi Arabia requires a unified Gulf position on Iran. What is certain is that some Gulf states employ a dual policy towards Iran... The Gulf states went to Camp David with Saudi Arabia on the assumption that they [all] had a unified position on the Iranian threat to Saudi Arabia - but that is not true."

[1] Al-Hayat (London), May 18, 2015.