When Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister Sheikh Muhammad al-Sabah paid a visit to Tehran before Bush ended his historic visit to the Gulf, it was a clear message that said: We act in accordance with our interests in the region, which might not always agree with US interests. We also do not agree with you on escalating the confrontation with Iran, besieging it, and boycotting it without international sanction. It is true that the Kuwaiti foreign minister’s visit to Tehran had been scheduled beforehand but observers tried to link it to Bush’s regional tour.
The Kuwaiti official’s visit was accompanied and followed by positive statements from both Kuwait and Iran including news about reaching an agreement to demarcate the continental shelf border between the two countries and another agreement by which Kuwait would obtain water and gas from Iran.
Kuwait’s independent decision and its obvious difference from the US escalation against Iran makes one wonder: If Kuwait, the closest regional ally to the United States, responded in this way, which cannot carry any different interpretation, what exactly was Bush told about Iran in the other Gulf capitals that he visited?
Bush’s hard-line calls against Iran had an extremely lukewarm reception in the Gulf media, if not outright opposition to lining up in the anti-Iran US trench. Of course the justification to strike arms deals with the Gulf countries was of major significance to the anti-Tehran US policy. This means that many people believed that the escalation was designed to frighten the Gulf countries and make them sign arms deals that would swallow up the financial surpluses that these countries acquired as a result of the higher oil prices. Additionally there was the automatic hostility to everything American that lurks in every religious Muslim’s heart.
The question that arises at this point is: What is Iran’s understanding of this Gulf message and how is it dealing with it?
There are two Iranian schools of thought that seek to interpret the Gulf position that opposes the US escalation against Iran. One school says that the Gulf countries are aware of Bush’s weakness and his inability to open new military fronts because he is occupied in Iraq and Afghanistan. Therefore if the Gulf countries had been confident of Bush’s ability to enter into a clash with Iran, they would have not hesitated to support him. Consequently this position reflects the Arabs’ weakness and Bush’s failure in inciting them against the Islamic Republic or escalating the situation against it. This school concludes that this is a “divinely given” victory from God and the Iranians should therefore stick more firmly to their hard-line position in accordance with God’s injunction: “If ye aid the cause of God, He will aid you, and plant your feet firmly.” [Koranic verse, Muhammad47:7]
A second school of thought in Iran believes that this is a position that reflects well on the Arabs and Iran’s Gulf neighbors and therefore Iran should hasten to show goodwill and return the Arab gesture by opening a dialogue over the fate of the three UAE islands and refraining from complicating the domestic Lebanese situation any further. It can do this by backing the Arab initiative to solve the crisis in Lebanon by urging Iran’s “allies” there, specifically Hezbollah to deal in a more positive spirit with the issue. This school of thought also believes that Iran should contribute to reducing the tension in Iraq. It thinks that it is necessary to invest in the positive Gulf attitude towards Iran before the opportunity slips away.
It is said that the proponents of the first school demonstrated their attitude by harassing US warships in the Gulf, firing missiles on the UN forces in south Lebanon, and inciting Hamas to fire more missiles on Sederot in Israel on the eve of Bush’s arrival in the region.
On the Arab front the main banner of Bush’s tour was establishing a Palestinian state and making peace between the Arabs and Israelis before Bush ended his term. The response came automatically from the extremist Zionist school, which is allied with the first Iranian school. It pressed ahead with the building of more settlements and escalating the military situation in Gaza by committing a massacre on the eve of Bush’s departure from the region that killed or wounded dozens of Palestinians. The Israelis sounded as if they were responding to the US President’s peace efforts with the words: “Take this Bush, from the hands of a friend!”
Bush will return to the region in May. I wonder what the reaction to his efforts will be then.