Something’s cooking in the White House and the smell drifting towards Saudi Arabia, the other Gulf states and Egypt is far from pleasant. America is one of our closest western allies, or so we’re meant to believe. Recent disclosures suggest otherwise. The Obama administration’s policy vis-a-vis the Middle East and the Gulf lacks transparency and is marked by contradiction and confusion — perhaps deliberately so. This column aims at giving you a clearer picture.
One of my biggest fears may be close to realisation. For years, I’ve been warning about a future unholy alliance between the US and the Islamic Republic of Iran to the detriment of Gulf Cooperation Council states in numerous articles. Under the title ‘Are Sunnis victims of a new Great Game’, published in April 2012, I wrote: “There is a credible school of thought that Washington’s long-term agenda revolves around luring Iran into its camp on the premise that Arab Shiites would follow … In theory, Washington would like to appoint a powerful entity like Iran as its proxy regional caretaker just as the Shah was until he suffered delusions of grandeur. But, first of all, it would be obliged to throw predominantly Sunni states under a bus.”
A year ago, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was still spouting his unhinged rants, some readers may have found the above analysis hard to believe, even though a US rapprochement with Iran has long been promoted by various US think-tanks as well as prominent American writers, analysts and politicians, including John Kerry. You’ll recall that President Barack Obama pledged to reach out to Iranians during his first term, saying the US wanted to end the strained relationship. That approach failed, mostly because a US president can’t engage in photo-ops with a Holocaust denier without locking horns with the pro-Israel lobby.
Then along comes Hassan Rouhani who worked his treacle-coated magic when, hey presto, he makes history as the first Iranian leader to have a phone conversation with a US president since 1979. Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice says normalisation of US-Iranian relations could ensue. King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia is not amused while Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is practically foaming at the mouth calling Rouhani a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Not only is Obama alienating his traditional allies with his bearded new best friend, he has astounded Egyptians by showing support for the Muslim Brotherhood and condemning the interim government for arresting its leaders. There is a belief among Egyptians that the US president funded the Brotherhood’s campaign prior to last year’s elections in connection with some kind of deal. Conspiracy theory! I thought so until I read an article in the World Tribune some days ago quoting former US Joint Chiefs Chairman General Hugh Shelton, who revealed to Fox News that the Obama administration had been working towards destabilising Egypt and Bahrain for the last two years.
“Had Gen [Abdul Fattah] Al Sissi not deposed Mursi, Egypt would have today become another Syria and its military would have been destroyed,” Shelton is quoted as saying. As for Bahrain, he explains that “America thought Bahrain was an easy prey that will serve as a key to the collapse of the GCC regime and lead to giant oil companies controlling oil in the Gulf”. He says the plot was foiled by the Bahrain king when he invited Saudi Arabia to assist in quelling the mutiny. If true, this is outrageous and cannot under any circumstances be forgotten or forgiven, especially when US intervention has placed Iraq under Tehran’s sway and bequeathed Libya to feuding militias while leaving Iran’s minion Al Assad free to continue his genocidal war against non-Shiites.
King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa may be taking Gen Shelton’s words seriously. An article by Zuhair Centav maintains the US has put pressure on the king to remove the Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa from office in keeping with the demands of the opposition, thus handing the rabble-rousers — and by extension Iran — a victory.
It’s notable that last Saturday, the Bahraini prime minister was enthusiastic about the formation of a Gulf Union while urging Gulf states to close the door on foreign interference. Just days before the prime minister’s announcement, King Hamad visited Egypt for talks with the Interim President Adly Mansour to “foster coordination and consultations among Egypt, Bahrain and the GCC”. The king underlined his support for Egypt in various fields and an agreement was reached on a comprehensive strategy for Arab national security via military and security panels.
Is the picture becoming clearer?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again. GCC leaders must wake up to the looming danger. The countdown has started; the US/Iranian plan is about to be implemented. A serious plan of action is urgently required. Firstly, together, GCC states are strong enough to stand alone, both economically and militarily, and should not permit foreign powers to make decisions for them.
Secondly, the GCC should diversify its weapons with purchases from different countries, rather than be vulnerable to the whims of one that is rapidly losing trust and conduct international relations like business ventures, with confidence, vision and planning.
Thirdly, Gulf states should take a leaf out of Iran’s strategic book by offering material support to the Iranian opposition, not just the Ahwazi Arabs, but also Iranians seeking freedom from oppression. Give Iran’s government a taste of the same turbulent medicine it metes out to its neighbours. Internally weakened, its attention will be diverted from mischief-making abroad and hopefully it will implode from within.
Fourthly, the GCC must cease following western diktats. We should only accept ‘advice’ we consider beneficial and which syncs with our own national interests. If we don’t display self-confidence and strength, no nation will respect us.
Lastly, GCC rulers should encourage their peoples to have a say in decisions that affect their future and feel they are being respected as patriots loyal to the country they love. When governments and citizens are one hand, no foreign plot can succeed in driving a wedge between them.
In the meantime, accusations of US plots should be thoroughly investigated and guarded against. As an old Scottish saying goes, ‘False friends are worse than bitter enemies’.
Khalaf Al Habtoor is a businessman and chairman of Al Habtoor Group.