America’s Dalliance with Iran Alienates Middle East Allies

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Guest Commentary

America’s closest regional allies are reeling from a series of shocks undermining their national security and interests, delivered by the Obama administration. Reports in the mainstream media indicate Saudi Arabia may have concluded ‘with friends like that, who needs enemies?’

Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan is quoted as saying his country is making “a major shift” away from the US, a mutually beneficial partnership that has endured since 1932 when full diplomatic relations were forged. Repercussions could involve Riyadh shopping around for alternative weapons supplies, curtailing US oil privileges or liquidating its US Treasury bonds and other US investments.

Supported by most Gulf States, Saudi Arabia has lost patience with President Obama’s ‘Jekyll and Hyde-type’ foreign policy missteps and u-turns during his second term, which have eroded trust in America’s will to cooperate with the Kingdom and its Sunni allies.

Secretary of State John Kerry refutes the existence of any such rift. He’s clearly in denial, unlike global markets that are taking the news seriously. Oil prices climbed to six-month highs within hours of the news breaking.  Unfortunately for the US, the Kingdom’s fury over America’s deal with Russia on the disposal of Syria’s chemical weapons, lending legitimacy to the Assad regime, cannot be wished away.

Obama has missed the point. Death is just as tragically final whether innocents are victims of chemical weapons, machine guns or airstrikes. What’s the use of Syria giving up its sarin gas that’s snuffed out the lives of hundreds when over 120,000 have been slaughtered by conventional means? This deal with the devil was made to save the US President’s face without a thought for the millions of refugees facing a cruel winter under canvas or those risking being drowned in the Mediterranean on route to European shores.

Saudi Arabia’s rejection of a revolving seat on the UN Security Council over its “double standards” and ineffectiveness on working towards a Palestinian state and peace in Syria could be construed as a poke in America’s eye. Kudos to the Kingdom for taking a strong position against the international community’s impotence and for rightly demanding a shake-up of the UN Security Council, a call echoed by the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Turkey. The Saudi authorities did well not to participate in a charade to keep up the Council’s numbers when the UNSC can be paralysed by any one of its five veto-holders.

Washington has been hammering nails in the coffin of US-GCC relations since it failed to support Saudi-Gulf military intervention in Bahrain to thwart a violent Iran-backed insurgency. Its punitive measures against Egypt’s army, pitted against Muslim Brotherhood rioters and terrorist groups in Sinai, has been seen as another slap to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait, morally and financially invested in the most populated Arab country’s security and stability.

Without question, the most destructive nail of all has been the US administration’s flirtatious advances towards its supposedly ‘sworn enemy’ Iran whose leadership has been fluttering its eyelashes westwards to get crippling UN, US and EU sanctions lifted. Americans abroad have a reputation for being wide-eyed and naive, but how is it possible that the US President’s national security advisors can be so easily conned by a silky-tongued mullah desperate to salvage Iran’s free-falling economy? There’s a lot more at stake here than haggling over the price of a Persian carpet.

It stretches belief that both sides are clamouring to forgive and forget almost overnight; there must have been back-channel discussions going on in secret for months. Talks between Iranian negotiators and a group of six world powers known as P5+1 have been hailed by the EU’s Catherine Ashton as ‘substantive and forward-looking”. Even so, since when does Iran deliver on its promises? Hasn’t mistrust over Iran’s nuclear intentions been the issue from day one?

Iranian detente with the West is swift-moving. The UK and Iran are already restoring full diplomatic relations; the US is poised to do so providing nuclear talks pan out. “If they’re ready to go, we are ready to go,” said a senior White House official. Once again, the West concentrates on the detail while ignoring the substance. Iran’s nuclear program is only one side of a multi-faceted coin.

Accepting Iran into the community of nations will empower Tehran’s territorial ambitions while increasing the vulnerability of Gulf States. It will energise its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, currently fighting alongside Iranian Revolutionary guards in Syria and bolster Iraq’s Shiite-dominate government. A blind-eye will be turned towards Iran’s material support of Yemeni Houthis and its less-well known ties with Al Qaeda, whose operatives — Saif Al Adel, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith and Abu Hafs Al Mauritani — were afforded safe refuge in Iran.

Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gets it and is lobbying the US not to fall for President Rouhani’s sweet-sounding duplicitous words but his fears are being written-off in Washington as the hysterical rants of a spoiler. On this matter, Uncle Sam is turning a deaf ear to his worries in favour of his about-to-be new best friend. The question is why?

America’s faithful friends in the region are astonished and dismayed by this latest turn of events. Regular readers of my columns know that I saw this coming. I’ve been warning the GCC to protect against these eventualities for years, via newspaper articles, letters, reports and face-to-face meetings. Now that Saudi Arabia has woken up to the danger, finally there’s hope. The time for relying on others is over. United and independent, with God’s help, we’ll stand strong.

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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