Since Saddam Hussein’s Invasion of Kuwait,
GCC states have collectively established a strong alliance with Israel.
This alliance is currently focused on the destruction of Iran and the
elimination of Iranian influence throughout the Middle East (and Central
Asia). Both Israel and GCC countries are scared livid of the Iranian
regime, its influence in their states and are therefore necessarily
committed to this common goal. But this is a strategic mistake – for
both GCC states and Israel. They have confused Iran’s regime with
ordinary Iranians. Their beef is with the Mullahs NOT Iranians. This is a
The Palestinian Factor
For decades Israel and the ‘whole’ Arab world
were blood enemies. Arab league members provided over $250 Million in
funds to support the Palestinians since the ‘60s, and successfully
organized an embargo with their oil supplies in the 1970’s to place
pressure on Israel (and its allies: US and Europe).
But, in 1990, there was a tidal shift in
alliances. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Yasser Arafat (then PLO
Chairman) came out and publicly supported Hussein; and Kuwait’s
Palestinian population rose in support of the Iraqis during the
invasion. And not long after the U.S. led liberation, the Kuwaitis
expelled 450,000 Palestinians. The Palestinian population in these
booming Persian “Gulf Arab” states has now dwindled by about 90% since
1990, replaced by Pakistanis and Filipinos.
Kuwait’s allies: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and
other Persian Gulf Monarchs or Sheikhdoms or dictators (depending on
your point of view) have rationalized that Palestinians were and still
are a national security risk and should not be trusted – nor supported.
Payback against Saddam Hussein did not take
long. Ironically, Saddam Hussein who was once supported to the tune of
billions of dollars by these same states in his war with Iran was also
in their cross hairs. And within a decade, or so the U.S. stationed
itself in Qatar, and transported troops through Kuwait to decimate his
regime. Hussein had not only failed to follow to destroy Iran, but had
turned against them!
In politics it seems – the enemy of my enemy
is my friend! In fact, the opening with Israel came on the heels of the
Madrid Conference in 1991 that contributed to the countries’ ofﬁcial,
rapprochement with Israel. Most of the ‘brokerage’ in these
relationships has developed through close relations with Jewish
organizations in the United States. There is now an odd sense of
solidarity arising out of the knowledge that Iraqi Scud missiles had
fallen on both Riyadh and Tel Aviv.
In 1994, the GCC canceled its boycott of
companies and countries that maintained economic ties with Israel. In
2005 the same Gulf States announced normalization measures with Israel.
The Bahraini foreign minister conﬁrmed that his country had decided to
cancel the boycott of Israeli goods, and the Qatari foreign minister
called on Arab nations “to respond positively to the step taken by
Israel.” He noted that “full diplomatic relations between Qatar and
Israel may be possible even before a comprehensive Israeli withdrawal
from the territories.”
And while this decade long strategic shift
was occurring, the British government sold its stake in BP basically to a
combination of Jewish Bankers (Rothschilds Holdings 39%) and Gulf State
Investment Organizations like for example the Kuwait Investment
Organization (21.6% by 2005). BP now, is basically an arm of these
states, while employing and banking primarily British executives and
And Israel’s government, for its part is
enabling Israeli companies to indirectly contribute to the security of
these dictatorships through training of local armed forces and by
offering advanced (homeland security-related) advanced products, as long
as they are perceived not to harm Israel’s strategic competitive
advantage. Israel already has access to markets in the Gulf; the boycott
is not applied if the products do not carry an Israeli label.
Israel’s covert relations with the United
Arab Emirates were partially exposed by the late-November 2010 leak of
diplomatic cables by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks that
uncovered the “secret and persistent dialogue” between the two
There are numerous formal and informal visits
between the nations (and with Turkey among the crowd). Whether or not
there are formal relations, i.e. embassies, it’s very clear that there
is a strong alliance in place. Israelis and Sheikhdoms are ONE.
The Iran Factor
Iran’s Mullahs have long been an adversary to
these Arab dictators. It is not clear why? It is true that Shiites
comprise the majority of the populations in most of this region –
including Saudi Arabia’s oil rich Eastern provinces. Democratic reforms,
in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain …you name it…would result in Shiite
led majorities, just like Iraq. There is real fear in these ruling Arab
elites when it comes to ‘democratic reforms’. But what exactly the
Mullahs did to deserve this status is unclear? Yes, Iran did bomb
Kuwaiti tankers – but that was during the war when Kuwait was exporting
Iraqi oil…and Iraq had just bombed Iranian oil installations. And okay,
there is a territorial dispute over islands in the Persian Gulf. So
What is strange for me is that there is
frequent intermarriage, migration, bilingualism, and commerce between
Iranians and many of these GCC states and citizens. Indeed besides the
indigenous Shiite populations in the states around the Persian Gulf,
there are over 400,000 Iranians residing in places like Dubai, roughly
one third of its urban population…performing core functions in the area.
Iranians, (the people of Iran), are a huge regional asset.
Despite all this, in recent years what has
tied the Gulf states to Israel more than anything else is their
ever-growing mutual fear of Iran. Israel today, represents the enemy of
not only the Palestinians but also Iran’s Mullahs. An alliance between
these “(Persian) Gulf Arab” states and Israel has been established with a
clear objective of undermining Iranian influence and “suppressing”
According to Wikileaks published US State
Department cable, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, repeatedly implored
Washington to target the Iranian nuclear sites—in his words: to “cut off
the head of the snake while there was still time.”
It is an open secret that these Gulf
countries maintain contacts with Israel—mainly through the sharing of
intelligence. In the summer of 2010 it was again reported (although the
reliability of these claims is uncertain) that Saudi Israel Journal of
Foreign Affairs V : 1 (2011) Arabia would allow Israeli warplanes to
use its airspace in the event of an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.
Israeli military gear was even delivered to Saudi Arabia in preparation
for an eventual attack on Iran.
Sami al Faraj, president of the Kuwait Center
for Strategic Studies and a consultant to Kuwait and other GCC states,
said recently that the “GCC states have been engaged in consultations
and intelligence exchange with Israel, particularly regarding the
Iranian threat.” Indeed, in the eyes of Arab rulers of the Gulf, it may
seem that Israel can be vital to Gulf security, as the US is now leaving
Iraq and Afghanistan.
Containing Iran’s quest for what is viewed as
a ‘hegemonic role’ in the Persian Gulf is the main concern of the Arab
monarchies, committed as they are to the preservation of their regimes.
After the Islamic Revolution, terror and subversion became Tehran’s
primary means of enforcing its regional policy and boosting its
inﬂuence. In most cases, as with the covert Iranian “sleeper cell”
uncovered in Kuwait (with links to Bahrain) in April 2010, it was hard
to prove Iranian involvement; thus, Iran can deny any connection to such
activity, while maintaining open diplomatic relations with the Gulf
states it is covertly targeting.
On the one hand, the Mullahs have conveyed
that they see themselves as partners for all Gulf States. On the other,
their actions have been hardly reassuring on the western side of the
Gulf. Iran has questioned the legitimacy of regimes, explicitly
threatened to shut the straits of Hormuz, and to target strategic
facilities in the Gulf States. It has conducted ominous military
maneuvers and played a negative role in events in Iraq and Yemen.
Moreover, Iran has occupied what the GCC consider to be their land (Abu
Musa and the Tunb Islands). The Mullahs even went so far as to declare
Bahrain as the fourteenth district of Iran (reminiscent of Saddam
Hussein’s rhetoric regarding Kuwait).
For their part, the GCC governments recognize
the difﬁculties facing the international community in stopping Iran on
its way to nuclear weapons capability and want to avoid angering their
increasingly powerful neighbor—and prefer to do what is necessary behind
the scenes – indirectly if you will. Netenyahu’s brazen verbal attack
on Iran is heralded by its ‘tacit allies’ and further amplified on
Qatar’s Al Jazeera TV throughout the Middle East during peak viewing
There is a genuine concern that an Iranian
bomb will enable the Mullahs to set the future political, economic, and
strategic agenda in the region. Similar concerns stem from the possible
outcome of an Israeli and/or American military operation aimed at
thwarting Iran’s nuclear capability, namely, a massive and widespread
Iranian retaliation. Although GCC countries support a ‘comprehensive’
diplomatic solution to the crisis with Iran, they fear it will be at the
expense of their interests and result in American recognition of Iran’s
dominance in the Gulf.
Today’s Proxy Wars
In the absence of an overt war, Israel and
its Arab allies have decided to fight Iran’s mullahs by proxy. The
overall plan is to ‘contain’ Iran – i.e. surround Iran while ensuring
Iran’s economy is held back with sanctioning. This is a systematic
policy of weakening Iran and sucking Iranian blood. Meanwhile, of course
they (and their surrogates) are running off with Iran’s treasure in the
Caspian Sea and limiting Iranian oil and gas exports in favor of their
own exports. In addition, sanctions have served to enable GCC countries
to act as trading points for ‘sanction busting’ – reselling sanctioned
goods to Iran at inflated prices and essentially profiting from Iran’s
Interestingly, Israel and GCC states enjoy
excellent relations with Azerbaijan. And BP, their joint prime
investment vehicle, owns (and operates) the key oil pipeline across
Azerbaijan and is the major operator of oil and gas platforms in the
Caspian Sea (in what is actually Iranian water).
It is reported that Israel has a number of
air bases inside Azerbaijan, with fighter jets ready for orders to
attack Iran at any time. Azerbaijan now also is tacitly supporting Azeri
separatists inside Iran.
GCC states have begun funding Al-Ahwazi
separatists and Jundallah (Baluchi) separatists. While Israel too, has
been funding Kurdish separatists.
But the clearest expression of this proxy
effort is in Syria. I will grant you that the Syrian affair is much more
than a proxy fight with Iran. Yes, both Israel and GCC states (like
Qatar) have a clear objective of running major gas pipelines across
Syria (and Lebanon too) to the Turkey to export their newly discovered
resources. And yes, Turkey too has partnered with them and built the
Nabucco pipeline to Europe with 40% excess capacity with this objective
What apparently started as a legitimate
attempt to join the Arab spring and fight for democratic rights in Syria
has transpired into a mercenary led ‘civil war’, with considerable
entry of ‘foreign fighters’ in the fray. The Syrian government recently
handed a list of names of citizens from 19 countries accused of joining
Syria’s rebels: Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Chad, Egypt, Iraq,
Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi
Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Turkey, Yemen and Chechnya. Since Chechnya is
not a country, but a republic of the Russian Federation, the list likely
contains names of Russian citizens…too. According to CNN reports, the strangest part of all of these fighters is that Jabhat al-Nusra — the radical Islamic group that has become the opposition's best fighting force. The lead author of a new analysis of the group, which is backed by al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), told CNN that al-Nusra now has 5,000 fighters and is willing to watch Syria burn to secure an al-Qaeda foothold in the region!
In July, Dutch photo journalist Jeroen
Oerlemans and British photographer John Cantlie were captured and held
hostage in Syria for a week by rebel militants. They claimed that
several of their captors spoke English with recognizable regional
British accents, like Birmingham and London. And in August, Syrian rebel
commanders reportedly became concerned over the numbers of hardline
Islamists entering Syria from other Muslim-majority countries.
Beyond these proxy wars, there is clear
indication that a direct war may in fact be in the cards. This past
year, both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have opened new
pipelines bypassing the Strait of Hormuz. The new links more than
double the total pipeline capacity bypassing the strait to 6.5m barrels a
day, or about 40 per cent of the 17m b/d that transits Hormuz. GCC
states are clearly preparing for a conflict, although their preparations
are NOT yet complete. Interestingly, Iraq too has a pipeline across
Saudi Arabia to al Muajiz on the Red Sea to deliver its oil and by pass
the Persian Gulf. One fascinating fact is that Saudi Arabia’s Al Muajiz
Port on the Red Sea was developed for a total shipping capacity of 10
Million barrels a day!
A Major Strategic Blunder
The problem with this complete strategic
realignment is that core populations of these GCC states are inherently
pan-Arabist. Which means that once the ‘people’ of these states figure
out that there is an ‘overt’ realignment between their leaders and
Israel, there is the potential for a massive back-clash domestically.
This could be further fueled by natural ‘Arab Spring” type democratic
yearnings among the populations of these GCC states – and not only might
there be a massive shift in government in the GCC states, but Israel
too risks losing partners that it has invested heavily in.
Secondly, an overt war with Iran would only
accelerate the demise of these regimes – not sustain them. The deal so
far with their suppressed populations has been to exchange economic
gains for political gains. If war breaks out there will naturally be
rationing and military drafts. This sort of instability will only make
them further vulnerable.
Thirdly, I believe a calculation that makes
Iran their enemy is fundamentally flawed. The Mullahs in Tehran do not
represent Iran or Iranians. In fact the Mullahs in Iran are enemies of
Iranians too. In fact most Iranians see the Mullahs as ‘Arabs’ i.e.
imposed on Iran; and indeed many senior regime leaders were born in Iraq
– not even Iran.
These sheikhs need to remember that Iran’s
current role in the region is a derivative of wars ‘started’ by GCC
states – not Iranian aggression. Remember, Saddam Hussein invaded Iran –
with support, encouragement and financial backing from GCC states. The
minutes of his meetings with King Fahd in Egypt is now public record.
The loan balances Iraq had to GCC states is also public record that came
out as a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. You can’t hide it. And
any insecurity these monarchs feel from the legitimate demands of their
populations should NOT be confused with Iranian meddling. Iranians have
become a scapegoat – when the real problems are elsewhere. Iranians did
NOT put the Mullahs in power – the West did. That is public record too.
Fourthly, Iran (especially after the war with
Iraq and two neighboring wars) has now developed a formidable defense
establishment, and its own (in house) weapon systems. This strategic
posture cold provoke an outright war, and just like the war with Iraq –
there is a real possibility that the GCC states could come out on the
short end of their own stick. After two years of a proxy war versus Iran
in Syria, there is no clear conclusion. Assad remains in power. The
joint Israeli/GCC/Turkey plan is to then extend the war to Lebanon and
then Iran. But what if the GCC states get ‘stuck’ in Syria? Have they
succeeded? Will the west come to the rescue again? Or let’s put it
another way, is there a vital strategic interest in Syria that the U.S.
must defend? Will the U.S. risk bankruptcy for Syria? I doubt it.
The truth is, that while this all seemed like
a good idea (and everyone was angry at Saddam Hussein the Palestinians)
it may not be a great idea today. Once one domino starts to fall
through a public uprising for democracy – with ‘no’ push from Iran (May I
add, there are many radical actors in the Middle East – Hamas,
Hizbullah, al Qaeda, you name it…) – in any single one of these GCC
countries, all these Sheikhs, or Monarchs or Dictators could all fall.
This is something they need to learn from the former “Shah of Iran” –
who had grandiose strategic ideas but did not establish a strong
domestic political infrastructure that was vitally necessary to carry
out his ambitions. The Sheikhs need to understand that they can do
NOTHING without the heartfelt support of their citizens.
These GCC countries need to understand what
their core strategic interest is. Does Iran represent a strategic
threat? If so, why? And does that mean that GCC states need to align
I would argue that it is in the “world’s”
national interest to topple the regime in Iran – but not do anything to
alienate the people of Iran or cause division among Iranians. That to
the extent GCC states can be aligned with Israel or indeed any other
country (Indonesia, Brazil etc.) to topple the regime in Tehran – that
this would a fundamental strategic win for everyone. But beyond that any
permanent alliance with Israel will be counterproductive to their
interests and stability. This is not meant as a negative statement about
Israel, it’s just a strategic reality. Israel has nothing to offer
these regimes except exposure to radical forces. (Look at who they are
partnering with in Syria?) And in fact Qatar could have pumped its
natural gas across Syria – even without a proxy war in Syria or the
balkanization of Syria, or the death of 60,000 Syrians. When the dust
settles on all this, it will not be pretty. There were other ways to
bring democracy to Syria without arming these sorts of rebels and
In fact, the most vital strategic ally every
GCC state can have is a transformed Iranian government – their neighbor –
that can police the neighborhood with them and help them make
democratic transitions without a great deal of pain. Petty fights over
small deserted islands, or sectarian considerations should not distract
quality strategic thinking. Iran can offer them a huge market, can offer
them regional stability, and also access to even bigger markets in
Central Asia. Israel on the other hand is a strategic liability. So what
if the Jewish lobby in Europe or the U.S. is helping them get access to
cable TV distribution, and helping them buy soccer (football) teams –
how is that of value to the people (the actual citizens) of GCC states?
The Sheikhs are being shaked down for cash, buying over-priced assets.
There is no real strategic, sustainable gain in getting VIP seats to
It is true that before the West toppled the
Shah, Britain persuaded America to align strategically with it and
invest in Alaskan Oil while Britain exploited North Sea oil – both of
which were expensive to extract, AND needed sustained high oil prices.
Toppling the Shah also meant shutting off Iran’s exports for over 10
years! Today, America is being ‘pushed’ into becoming an energy ‘power
house’ with net energy exports for the first time in over 30 years. But
it is a mistake to believe that this will result in a strategic
realignment. The Obama administration so far has refused to ‘play’ in
Syria in concert with Israel, Turkey or the GCC. And the Obama
administration is focused on ‘reducing imports’ NOT maximizing exports
i.e. reducing America’s oil dependency. The GCC is mistaken if they
believe “Saudi-Americanization” will shift U.S. policy. And if the GCC
are really shrewd, they will notice that in fact the U.S. has been
protecting Iran’s Mullahs – not undermining them…and vice-a-versa. Iran
today lists Iraq and Afghanistan as major export clients (both dominated
by the U.S. military, while apparently there are global sanctions on
Iran). The Mullahs are an expression of U.S. foreign policy.
What do these Sheikhs really have to show for
all the money they have invested in the West? Indeed, governments in
the West view them as great candidates for hosing, and use all these
opportunities to sell the Sheikhs billions of dollars of inflated priced
arms – and junk government bonds to undermine their own domestic
spending. They are being hosed. They are the ones being used…by Israel
and the West!
And they have to face it, democratic
yearnings in the region are unstoppable. The Mullahs will fall, and
their dictatorships are at risk (and it is not because of Iran). These
dictators can become Monarchs like the Queen of England – even if there
are a ton of Catholics in Britain!
There is a better path to peace, stability
and prosperity – they need to see it – but their strategic calculations
are completely wrong.