Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Iran and the Gulf: the struggle of politics and oil | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The nature of the relationship between revolutionary Iran and the Gulf region is one of pure struggle, at least from the part of Iran, which further exacerbates the situation by adopting hostile policies towards the Gulf States.

From the outset, Iran sought to “export” its revolution, in the violent and direct sense of the word, before later it changed its means and tactics. Despite its repeated failures in attempting to export the revolution directly, Iran never gave up and continued this endeavor, but not through actual warfare, as was the case with its war against Iraq in the 1980s, instead through mobilizing groups, parties and minorities, which is a well-known story.

However, for quite some time, Iran has been adopting a principle other than “exporting the revolution”, namely “exporting the crisis”. With most of the crises that have resulted from Tehran’s failing policies domestically, or its subversive policies internationally, Iran has sought to directly create a larger regional or international crisis, sometimes aiming to ease the internal pressure it is facing, or at other times to intimidate political dissidents within Iran, or champion an ally here or a supporter there, or pick a quarrel with the West, mainly the US, regarding some hot topic.

The recent period has witnessed an escalation of pressure upon Iran, and the economic sanctions against the Islamic revolutionary regime have started to pay off. The sanctions imposed upon the Iranian Central Bank – a measure the US has already started to take and the European Union will embark on next Monday – will further complicate the situation for the decision-makers in Iran. The threat of imposing sanctions on oil will soon tighten the grip on what remains of Iran’s fragile economy, since “the Iranian currency has declined by 40 percent, reaching its lowest level on the black market” (Asharq al-Awsat, Thursday 19th January.)

Besides, even if Iran has been eclipsed by Iraq politically in the past few years, in view of the US, today it is facing one of the greatest challenges in the history of its policies in the region; the potential fall of its major ally; the al-Assad regime in Syria.

It is worth recalling here that whenever Iran fails domestically and whenever its international policies stumble, it begins to brandish the weapon of cutting off oil supplies that pass through the Strait of Hormuz. When adopting such a stance amidst its neighborly Gulf States, Iran seems virtually indifferent to the fact that this would jeopardize these states’ interests or violate their sovereignty, or harm the backbone of their economies.

In the mid-1980s, and when the Iraqi-Iranian war was at its peak, specifically in 1986, Iran picked a fierce quarrel with Saudi Arabia over its oil policies, and began to threaten Saudi Arabian oil tankers. At that time, the then Saudi King Fahd bin Abdul-Aziz told a Syrian minister who was mediating the crisis between Saudi Arabia and Iran that “Iran wants any improvement in relations to be conditional upon full submission to its own will, something that no free nation would ever accept “. He added that “the commodity of oil does not only concern our nations, but our friends and enemies as well.” Commenting on Iran’s hostile policies at that time, King Fahd said “Iran will not derive any benefits from strangling Saudi Arabia, and I mean the word strangling here because oil is our life. We have good navy potential and an air force which is superior to that of Iran. But when someone attempts to strangle the other, what do you expect him to do?” (The Syrian-Iranian Alliance and the Region p 103).

Iran, by threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz, is declaring a war on the Arabian Gulf states, which will not fail to take action against the Iranian attempts to “strangle” them. These countries can do a lot to ensure the protection of their interests against Iran’s hostile threats. For example, the economic potential of these countries and their large budget surplus would ensure them a strong position if they sought to play a game with Iran, particularly with regards to the oil issue. This is not a case of international oil sanctions alone, but a game can also be played with the individual price of a barrel of oil as well. The Arab Gulf states have much greater potential than Iran with regards to controlling the price of a barrel of oil globally. If these countries were convinced that it would be advantageous for them to cut the price of a barrel in half or even more, this would deliver a fatal blow to Iran. Then would Iran regard such a measure as hostile, whilst it is threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz and prevent the transportation of a single drop of oil, as expressed by its military and political hawks?

This is just an example of what the Gulf states could do to confront Iran’s continual and endless obstinacy towards them. However, their more powerful weapon lies in their wise and deliberate policies towards Iran, policies that have often yielded positive results in general. This does not mean underestimating Iran’s cunning political tactics, which is a different subject altogether. However, what can be observed is that when Iran wins, it tends to boast about it, and when it loses, it tends to provoke others. In both cases, its political discourse is full of ideological slogans and revolutionary muscle-flexing.

The Syrian issue seems to have been the driving force behind Iran’s policies in the region, ever since last March. In view of the Syrian people’s continual protests in cities, rural areas and streets, and due to the Arab states and Turkey’s fear that the Syrian regime’s continual violence may push the country into a civil war with significant collateral damage, everyone has the strong conviction that it is necessary to eliminate this regime, and that Syria should take a new path.

Syria’s only allies now are Russia, its most zealous defender in the United Nations and the Security Council, the more reserved China and Iran. Due to the considerable pressure it faces, Iran is only able to rescue the Syrian regime by creating other crises in the region such as that of the Strait of Hormuz, or by sending weapons, or training the regime’s elements in the ways and means of repressing their own people, using Iran’s considerable experience in this particular domain. As for China, it only cares for its own interests, rather than al-Assad’s. With regards to Russia, the question to be raised here is: Will Russia distance its support for the al-Assad regime in the event of escalating indicators suggesting its downfall? Or will it reconsider its policies towards Syria in line with its own interests and the new developments on the ground?

Iran’s hostility towards Saudi Arabia and the Gulf is blatant and is even stronger than Israel’s hostility towards these states. So, those in the Gulf and the Arab world who in the past were lured into the slogans of resistance should now reconsider their positions and see where they stand.