As have I argued in my article last month in Gulf News, titled: ‘Cold War in the Middle East reached a boiling point’, Iran’s predicament after 39 years of its revolution, affects the Middle East. Tehran has not settled in and moved from its revolutionary zeal into being a nation-state that its neighbours, especially those that are part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), could live and deal with normally.
Iran’s behaviour continues to evoke the question: Is it a state or a cause or a revolution? This in turn raises another strategic question: What does Iran want? What kind of project does its policies, behaviour, shenanigans and meddling in the internal affairs of its mainly Arab neighbours — through its proxies of states and non-state actors, through soft and hard powers — attempt to achieve?
United States President Donald Trump has reversed Iran’s gains achieved under the administration of former US president Barack Obama. Iran has enjoyed, by somewhat freezing its nuclear programme, monetary gains and free rein to advance its regional project to be the hegemon and purse its ballistic missile programme, threatening regional security and stability.
Trump has thrown a major spanner in the works of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In this the US clearly differs with its western allies, who share the common view that the nuclear deal with Iran is the best option available for lack of other alternatives, to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
The GCC states collectively, welcomed the nuclear deal at the Camp David Summit in May 2015 (between US and GCC), led by Obama, just two months before the nuclear deal was ratified. In a joint US-GCC statement issued by the White House on May 14, 2015, both sides had emphasised: “In this spirit, and building on the US-GCC Strategic Cooperation Forum, the leaders discussed a new US-GCC strategic partnership to enhance their work to improve security cooperation, especially on fast-tracking arms transfers, as well as on counter-terrorism, maritime security, cybersecurity, and ballistic missile defence. They reviewed the status of negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran, and emphasised that a comprehensive, verifiable deal that fully addresses the regional and international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program is in the security interests of GCC member-states as well as the United States and the international community. The United States and GCC member-states oppose and will work together to counter Iran’s destabilising activities in the region and stressed the need for Iran to engage the region according to the principles of good neighbourliness, strict non-interference in domestic affairs, and respect for territorial integrity, consistent with international law and the United Nations Charter, and for Iran to take concrete, practical steps to build trust and resolve its differences with neighbours by peaceful means.”
But clearly, the Obama administration was fully consumed by reaching the nuclear deal at any price so. The idea that Iran should not become a nuclear power led to concessions that meant that Obama failed to deliver on his promise of “countering Iran’s destabilising activities in the region”. Under Obama’s watch, Iran expanded its project to boast of controlling four Arab capitals in its regional hegemonic project. No wonder, GCC-US relations had sunk to its lowest ebb under the previous US administration.
Today, the GCC states are bracing themselves in the midst of the rhetoric traded between the Trump administration and Iran. As things escalate, there is fear of a major fallout, especially if the Trump administration — with his hawkish officials and ardent opponents of the Iran nuclear deal — exit the nuclear deal. Already Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his top officials have upped the ante by threatening major consequences, including aggressively resuming its nuclear enrichment programme, if the US exits the nuclear deal.
European leaders led by French President Emmanuel Macron in his first state visit under the Trump administration, followed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a last-ditch effort are attempting to persuade Trump to save the deal in exchange of slapping Iran over its ballistic missile programme and pressing Tehran to enforce a ban on Iran’s missile tests and moderating its behaviour, which includes not meddling in regional affairs from Iraq to Syria Lebanon and Yemen. But will this persuade Trump to change his mind? Meanwhile, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has warned, saying that attempts “to try to appease the (US) president would be an exercise in futility”.
Given the fractured state of affairs in the region, the GCC is bracing to deal with the likely fallout of Iran’s retributions through its proxies against the US and its allies in the region. The clock is ticking.
Professor Abdullah Al Shayji is a professor of Political Science and the former chairman of the Political Science Department, Kuwait University. You can follow him on Twitter: @docshayji.