Iran-Gulf alliance can benefit region
By: Mohammed Fahad Al-Harthi
Iran has unfortunately become synonymous over the years with problems in the Middle East, including its role in Iraq, providing support on the ground for Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, maintaining a presence in Lebanon through Hezbollah, stirring up trouble in Bahrain, and bolstering the Houthis in Yemen.
One can, therefore, not blame people for viewing the country with suspicion and distrust. In this context, political analysts have had a field day by demonizing the country and using it as a scapegoat for all the ills of the region. This is certainly justified to some degree but such labels are ultimately unhelpful in trying to create a better future for the people of the region.
Anything is possible in politics and disputes can be dealt with in various rational ways without further escalating tensions into the realm of the personal and religious. For instance, the targeted use of sanctions and boycotts can achieve the desired effect of subduing a recalcitrant nation.
Many scholars and writers on both sides of the divide have become dogmatic and been trying to play on people’s emotions by raising all sorts of blurry arguments about great religious conflict. Iran, it must be remembered, shares with Gulf nations a common geography, religion and even culture. The relationship should not be reduced simplistically to a single issue that is then used to fuel mutual antagonism.
The Gulf and Iran have had a rocky relationship since 1979 with the establishment of the republic. Despite various confrontations, the eras of former Presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammed Khatami were far better than the conservative rule of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose blustering had contributed to heightening political polarization in the region. Iran has the right to set its own agenda, as long as its policies do not threaten the security and sovereignty of other nations.
However, countries wanting to confront Iran must remember to get their own houses in order before they do so. They have to unify their nations and have strong economic and political systems. External political conflicts should never take precedence over important domestic priorities.
Iran has been tackled on several critical issues affecting others in the region, including its alleged desire to develop nuclear weapons. But there are other grievances that countries have been raising, including Iran’s occupation of three islands in the Arabian Gulf. The United Arab Emirates says the islands are its territory and the current status quo violates international law. However, it acted in a mature manner by referring the matter to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). There is precedent for this in the dispute over the Hewar Islands between Qatar and Bahrain, with the ICJ ruling in favor of Bahrain. Iran knows it has a weak case and, therefore, does not want to refer the matter to the ICJ.
Iran, now under Hassan Rouhani, has a chance to play a positive role in bringing peace and stability to the region. Iranians have suffered economically with minimum gain after wasting their resources in various military and political wars. The high price of war might force decision makers to soften their hard-line attitude and adopt a pragmatic approach to foreign policy. It should be recalled that Ayatollah Khomeini himself ended the war with Iraq when faced with changes on the ground.
Politics is all about gaining and holding onto power, but it need not necessarily be conducted in militant language. A coalition of Iran and the Gulf can pave the way for a strong regional strategic alliance. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the recent initiatives by Russia with its $400 billion gas deal with China, and tie-ups with other Asian states, show how important it is to eliminate differences with Iran and achieve regional unity.
Iran is an ideal partner for Gulf nations considering the two parties’ shared history and geography. The cost of not forging an alliance would be extremely high. It is, therefore, necessary for politicians, journalists and religious scholars to put aside their sectarian feuds and seek unity for the benefit of the region’s development.