How would you feel if you knew that there was ticking time bomb in your neighbourhood while those all around refused to heed your warnings? The bomb I hear is Iran's belligerence, interference in Arab countries and growing military might. This threat is dire and if not taken seriously we'll wake up to see battalions of Iranian Revolutionary Guards on our coastlines.
I recently read an Arabic article in Asharq Alawsat by Mishari Al Thaidy titled Knocks on the Persian Door that compounded my fears. He cites the views of former CIA field operative and author Robert Baer who claims America's trust in weak Sunni regimes is misplaced. Baer maintains Iran, which is more powerful and stable, is a better bet and advises the US to invite Iran to the peace table without preconditions.
Al Thaidy also discusses the opinions of Iranian-born Middle East analyst Vali Nasr. According to Nasr, "Shiites have welcomed both the fall of Sunni domination and the rise of prospects for political change. This makes them, in principle, more likely to work with the US. Greater democracy serves Shiite interests across the region, and hence Shiite revival is favourably disposed towards democratic change," Nasr writes. That's hardly true when Sunnis proved their thirst for democracy during the Arab Spring.
A number of US think-tanks agree with Baer and Nasr. If Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has whiffed this warmer mood wafting over the Atlantic, no wonder he feels confident enough to strut around Abu Mousa, a UAE island under Iran's occupation. Which of our lands will he gloat over next?
Historically, Arab leaders have failed to read the writing on the wall. Sykes and Picot were free to carve-up the Middle East in 1916 and a year later Balfour gave away Palestine. When it came to Gulf States, their strategy was more sophisticated. They weren't occupied but rather dominated by Great Britain and, later, the US. History has a nasty habit of repeating itself. We must refuse to be treated like pawns in an endless US-Russian chess game. With unified objectives and effective militaries we can avert being treated like playthings without a say in our destiny.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said the US was committed to the security of Gulf States but Washington's Middle East policy is committed to retaining US regional hegemony using ‘divide-and-rule'. America is a puppet master manipulating client/compliant states. During the tenure of George W. Bush when newly-democratic Russia was hesitant to flex its muscles, the US had free rein to invade Iraq and Afghanistan — and set up military bases throughout the Gulf and the Caspian. Russia is a different creature now. President Vladimir Putin regrets his former conciliatory position and is set on countering America's regional ambitions by taking Iran and Syria under his country's wing. The game of who controls the Middle East and the Gulf is complex. Superficially, the US and Iran are sworn enemies but this may be a ploy as highlighted by author Trita Parsi in his book Treacherous Alliance. It's no secret that Iran's mullahs have actively cooperated with Washington to rid Afghanistan of their mutual foe the Taliban and lent its support to the US-led invasion of Iraq, now under Iran's umbrella.
One school of thought believes Washington's long-term agenda hangs on bringing Iran and Arab Shiites into its camp. On this, the US and Israel, which perceives Iran as a threat to its existence, differ. In theory, Washington would like a powerful entity like Iran as its proxy regional caretaker. But first, it would throw Sunni states under a bus. America's aim is to divide Arabs by keeping Sunnis contained in small pockets while empowering Shiites, a policy that's worked in Iraq.
With so much sectarian violence in Iraq there is still a possibility that it could be divided-up into two or three states. Western hands were behind the slicing of Sudan into two. And the downfall of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi has resulted in residents of Benghazi demanding autonomy. Yemen is also splintering. Sunni states are weakening.
Strangely, the Alawite, pro-Iranian Bashar Al Assad regime appears to have been given a licence to kill. Moreover, the US and Europe seem to have entered some kind of accommodation with Iran over uranium enrichment during recent P5 +1 talks in Istanbul. Forget President Obama's anti-Iranian rhetoric, designed to placate the pro-Israel lobby! He's certainly oiling this nascent detente.
We shouldn't wait for a nasty surprise. Western powers will always link up with strong countries able to protect their interests, while those too weak to preserve their honour will be squashed. Israeli writer Yaron Friedman predicts that new post-Arab Spring political realities will ignite wars between Sunnis and Shiites with the main arena of conflict being the Arabian Gulf. We must pray that he's wrong while remaining alert.
If only GCC governments would open their eyes to these threats to our dignity and sovereignty. It's imperative that we set aside selfish interests and disagreements to form a seamless united front. Then, and only then, there is hope that we won't one day be corralled into Gaza-style pens saying, if only we could turn the clock back.
Khalaf Al Habtoor is a businessman and chairman of Al Habtoor Group.