Relations between the Arab Gulf states on the one hand, and Khomeinist Iran on the other, are moving towards further tension. The latest chapter in the Iran-Gulf tensions unfolded earlier this week at a conference held by Ahmadinejad, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, where he threatened the Gulf states, and described their position towards their sister state of Bahrain as illegal, and merely at the request of an American demand. Ahmadinejad said that the Gulf States should heed a warning from the fate of Saddam Hussein, who invaded Kuwait and was formerly an agent for the U.S., before he was “spat out” by the Americans. Ahmadinejad maintained that the Gulf regimes should be amiable with their own people, and listen to their demands. He added that the statement issued by the Gulf Ministerial Council (GMC) condemning Iran’s incitement against the Gulf States was of no value, and then went on to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian issue in a confrontational manner.
In brief, Ahmadinejad repeated his usual words about Israel, Palestine, honor and resistance, in order to justify Iran’s unsettling behavior towards Bahrain, and the entire Gulf region.
The story in Bahrain is quite clear. Part of the dissenting opposition is doctrinally and politically linked to Iran. We all know Iran’s true position with regards to Bahrain, which was plainly announced a few years ago when Hossein Shariatmadari, a media advisor to the Supreme Leader, declared Bahrain’s affiliation to Iran, and the latter’s historical right to the former.
Last week in Riyadh, the Gulf States issued a clear, decisive, collective stance on Iran’s policy towards the Gulf, particularly after Kuwait had uncovered a dangerous Iranian espionage network within its territory. As usual, Iran was quick to ridicule this move, and accused the international forces of evil of being behind it. We are in a state of steady escalation where quasi-belligerent language prevails between the Gulf States and Iran, against the backdrop of the latter’s policy toward Bahrain.
We have been in the eye of the hurricane since protests and sit-ins against the authorities in Bahrain took on a critical juncture by defying the nature of the state, demanding the establishment of a republic and the abolition of the existing monarchy, through a declaration by Hassan Meshema, one of the key figures in the Shiite opposition.
The Gulf States, led by Saudi Arabia, deployed the Joint Peninsula Shield Force to Bahrain at the request of the state itself, and the common pacts signed to protect any Gulf state from the dangers of collapse and overthrow. Iran was enraged, from the Supreme Leader, to the President of Republic and the Parliament Chairman. This was followed by a complete Gulf mobilization against Iran, which, for its part, did not try to pacify relations with the Gulf. Instead, Iran added fuel to the fire and confirmed the already lingering suspicions about its intentions. Iran threatened the Gulf States, with the words of Ahmadinejad, saying that the US wouldn’t be of much use to them.
Iran’s ambitions in the region, especially along the Gulf coastal strip, have been well-documented for a long time. The existence of radical Shiite groups linked to Iran is also a well-known and a firmly established fact. It is enough to read what researchers like Dr. Falah al-Mudaires wrote about Shiite groups in Bahrain and Kuwait, or read about the Bahrain Liberation Front, the Iranian cleric named “Al-Madrassi”, and the history of the Saudi branch of Hezbollah known as Hezbollah of the Hijaz.
By examining the abovementioned examples, you would have a good picutre of the current situation, and the position of Iran, which sponsors extreme demands such as the abolition of the state in Bahrain, and the establishment of a republic (affiliated to Iran of course), just as Ahmadinejad and Ala’-al-Din Broujerdi have envisaged.
We do not know where the crisis between the Gulf States and Iran is heading to, as it is an age-old dispute, and potentially the main reason behind the establishment and continuation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) itself. Whoever reads the excellent book published a few months ago by the defector and former Syrian Vice President, Abdul Halim Khaddam, entitled “The Syrian-Iranian Alliance and the Region”, would find startling conversations and texts witnessed, noted down, and participated in by Khaddam himself.
This material revealed the truth behind the Gulf States’ headache courtesy of Khomeinist Iran, and how war nearly broke out between Saudi Arabia and Iran on several occasions, particularly in 1985 during what came to be known as the War of Tankers, in which Iran torpedoed Saudi tankers at sea, and violated the Saudi airspace with its jet fighters. Yet King Fahd was very good at defusing dangerous situations. He informed President Assad, the Syrian mediator at the time, that he was not keen on starting a war in the region, even though Saudi was entirely capable of shooting down the Iranian combat aircraft. Saudi Arabia was seeking a calm, quiet Gulf, not an inflamed one.
The book also tells of how the issue of Bahrain was there from the onset of Saudi-Iranian relations, particularly after the outbreak of the Khomeinist revolution and the arising of a crisis between Iran and Bahrain in 1980. Gradually, Gulf concern over Iranian ambitions began to grow, to the extent that the then Deputy Prime Minister of Iran, Sadiq Tabatbaei, asserted during a visit to Damascus in January 1982 that Iran was willing to establish better relations with the Gulf States, and that it had no intention whatsoever to interfere in Bahrain’s internal affairs. Having been commissioned by the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, former Syrian official Abdul Halim Khaddam conveyed those statements to Riyadh and King Fahd. However, Iran’s policy on the ground remained inconsistent with such reassurances.
Today, the existing tensions between Iran and the Gulf States will remain unless Iran stops interfering in the affairs of Gulf societies, inciting the Shia politically, and planting spies inside the region. Iran is also attempting ignite the wider region, with its dangerous role in Iraq and possible meddling in Yemen’s affairs.
For its part, Iran won’t abandon its provocative and unsettling practices unless it gets what it wants, not just nuclear weapons but more importantly, hegemony and influence over the entire region. Nuclear weapons are simply a means to attain that goal. It is an old dream which Khaddam talks about in his book, and which involves the creation of an Iranian-Turkish-Syrian axis.
Thus it seems that only a miracle can solve this conflict. The important question I have heard liberal Gulf intellectuals pose is: How could we draw attention to this enormous Iranian danger facing the Gulf States, knowing that Iran does indeed have a finger in the Gulf pie, without using sectarian or provocative terms?
This is both a moral and practical problem. It is a moral problem because falling into the trap of sectarianism puts you into the abominable category of judging people according to non-national, non-humanitarian characteristics including sect, color, language, ethnicity and origin. This is irrational because people have no choice in those intrinsic characteristics, and should only be judged by what they do in their lives and what they choose. Moreover, it is a practical problem as well because drifting into sectarian language puts all Gulf citizens in one basket and unwisely drives them toward Iran and its embrace, which in any case is an uncomfortable one for the Arab Shia.
The Gulf States are just as entitled to their Shiite citizens as Iran is. It is not right that under the pressure of being in confrontation with Iran, and its schemes in the region, a detestable sectarian discourse is being promoted against Shiite citizens. Sectarian language is an easy means to stir the instinct of primitive hatred in people.
The language of sectarian incitement was put to practice during the 1980s, in the famous theories of the book entitled “Now هt is the Magi’s Turn”, and we reaped nothing but bitterness. Then, Iran’s policies underwent a temporary change and those theories disappeared. This reminds us of the periods of conflict between the Safavids and the Ottomans. First, a fatwa was issued by the clerics in Istanbul branding the Shia as infidels, but when reconciliation was reached between the Ottoman emperor and the Safavid Shah, another fatwa was issued from Istanbul contrary to the first one.
Indeed it is a problematic issue: How could we curb our confrontation with Iran, when it is a genuine encounter, not an illusionary one? How could we narrow it down and keep it safe from sectarian wars and exclusionary campaigns? Those wars and campaigns would only harm the Gulf’s Shia, when the majority of them have nothing to do with Iran or any of the radical currents in the political arena. Actually, they are an intrinsic part of the Gulf’s national fabric.
Thus, here comes a role of true responsibility. Stirring sectarian differences is an easy solution to confront the expansionist Iran, but how will we heal the wounds of citizenship, which will bleed if we put all Shiites in one basket? That is the question. It is an ethical and political challenge we are facing, and this is where real leaders stand out.