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Mordechai Kedar: Engulfed by Fear

UAE leaders meeting with Hamas PM Haniyeh

Photo Credit: Mohammed Al-Ostaz/Flash 90

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The Persian Gulf suffers from severe geo-political disproportionality: on its eastern shore lies one large state, Iran, which operates methodically and consistently to implement its agenda, the goal of which is regional – if not wider – hegemony; while on its western shore lie no less than twelve Arab states: Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the seven states of the United Emirates: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharqah, and Umm al-Quwain. Each state has its own story: a family that dominates the leadership, a unique character, its own internal problems, and its own individual agenda, which differs from state to state. As long as Iraq was under the control of Saddam, it was a counterweight to Iran, and the states of the Gulf took shelter in the shadow of Iraq. They also paid protection money to Iraq in the form of partial funding of the Iraqi military efforts during the years of the war against Iran between 1980 and 1988. Since their establishment, the ultimate goal of the Gulf states was to survive among the giants, Iraq and Iran, and the Emirates kept their distance from Saudi Arabia. Recently the Iranian titan took control of the Iraqi titan.

The states of the Arabian Peninsula have been trying for years to create a mechanism that would result in a united agenda, mainly from a security point of view, and in light of the war between Iran and Iraq, they created the “Gulf Cooperation Council” (GCC) in May 1981. The main achievement of this Council was the establishment of a military force by the name of the “Peninsula Shield Force”, whose role is to defend its members from external attack. However, the Force was too weak and therefore unable to rescue Kuwait in 1990 from the Iraqi invasion. The most successful action of the Force was in March of 2011, when they became involved in the internal struggle in Bahrain to stabilize the minority Arab-Sunni rule over the majority Persian-Shi’ite population, which was rebelling against the regime under the influence of the “Arab Spring” and with the encouragement of Iran.

Since the regime of Saddam was overthrown in the year 2003, and since Iran has succeeded during the last year to bring Iraq into its sphere of influence, the Gulf states feel that the Iranian steamroller is approaching nearer and nearer to them, and the guillotine of the Ayatollahs is threatening the connection between the heads and shoulders of the sheikhs, princes and kings who live in the Arabian Peninsula. The states of the Peninsula feel that they are increasingly dependent on the United States and the West to guard their independence and their political and economic maneuverability, but the West seems tired and exhausted now, as a result of their failure in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its leadership – especially the current resident in the White House, who is heavily influenced by the approaching elections – lacks backbone and has no ability to stop the Iranians from galloping towards regional hegemony. The Gulf states know that if Iran invades Kuwait and conquers it, as Saddam did in August of 1990, the world will not send its armies to rescue Kuwait again, but will sacrifice it on the Iranian altar in hopes that the Ayatollahs will be satisfied with that. And any other country can expect the same treatment.

The inherent split among the states of the Arabian Peninsula has been exacerbated recently by the internal problems that are tearing Yemen from within: the conflict between the North and the South awakens the desire among the tribes of South Yemen to renew the independence that they lost 22 years ago, in the never-ending war between the Sana’a regime and the Hawthi’s in the district of Sa’da in the North and the activities of Al-Qaeda (and especially egregious was the terror attack that caused about a hundred fatalities among the soldiers of the army) against the central regime, weakening the domestic front of this state and threatening its integrity.

As a result, the geo-political situation in the Gulf in the recent period is that of total inequality: On one side is one unified state with a clear goal, possessing great power, and a willingness to use it without regard for the international community; and on the other side are 13 states – including Yemen – with various competing concerns, and with complex internal conflicts. In some of these states, large Shi’ite minorities exist which serve as effective Iranian-Shiite “Trojan Horse” within Arab-Sunni states. Adding to this already problematic situation is the complex history in the region: The Iranian takeover of three islands that belong to the Emirates back in the days of the Shah, but continues to be a focus of tension; the visit of Ahmadinejad to one of these islands about two months ago as a sign of Iranian sovereignty over them; Iranian naval maneuvers to close off the Strait of Hormuz; Iranian talk about the historical connection between Iran and Bahrain, which has a Persian-Shi’ite majority, and Iranian talk about the obligation of Bahrain to return to the Iranian bosom; Iranian complaints to Saudi Arabia about how it relates to its Shi’ite minority that resides in the area of the oil fields; and the provocative behavior of Iranians who make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, arousing sectarian tension among the Sunnis.

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About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.


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