There is an African proverb, ‘When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers’. The Arab sheikhs who instigated the US-Iran standoff would have heard the proverb but chose to ignore it. The assumption in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi was that President Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ strategy would frighten Tehran and life would be back to normal very soon with a weakened Iran bludgeoned into submission in the Persian Gulf.
They should have known from the recent example of Qatar that when faced with existential threats, countries resist injustice and aggression with all the national comprehensive power at their command.
The gyre of the US-Iran standoff is only widening by the day. What was thought to be a localised affair is acquiring international dimensions. America’s Arab allies no longer have a say in the mutation of the US-Iran standoff. Meanwhile, Britain has appeared on the scene to navigate the US project.
The Saudi and Emirati role from now on narrows down to bankrolling the Anglo-American project on Iran and to allow the western bases on their territories to be used as launching pads for belligerent acts aimed at provoking the leadership in Tehran into retaliatory moves. In sum, there is growing danger that the might get sucked into the Anglo-American project unwittingly.
The Gulf states lack “strategic depth” vis-a-vis Iran and are sure to find themselves on the frontline of any military conflagration. Conceivably, neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE bargained for such an eventuality. Thus, belatedly though, the Saudis and Emiratis have taken out the abacus and are doing the sums afresh.
It is possible to discern amidst the welter of interpretations given to the abrupt, unceremonious “partial” pullout of the UAE forces from the war in Yemen, Abu Dhabi’s calculation that safeguarding homeland security comes first, way above any imperial agenda.
That sobering thought has prompted the UAE to make some overtures to Tehran. The UAE has taken a nuanced stance that no country could be held responsible for the attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf in June. Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan said “clear and convincing evidence” is needed regarding the attacks that targeted four vessels off the UAE coast, including two Saudi oil tankers.
In essence he distanced UAE from the US National Security Adviser John Bolton’s finding that the attacks on oil tankers were the work of “naval mines almost certainly from Iran”. Significantly, Al-Nahyan made the remark at a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a visit to Moscow in late June, which from all indications focused on the efforts to bring the war in Yemen to an end and on a possible Russian initiative to moderate UAE’s tensions with Iran. Interestingly, within the week after Al-Nahyan’s visit in late June, Moscow also hosted the Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Conference and the UN special envoy on Yemen.
It is entirely conceivable that Russia is doing what it can behind the scenes to lower the tensions between Iran and the UAE and in the Persian Gulf region as a whole. Moscow has lately rebooted its proposal for a collective security system for the Persian Gulf. In fact, on July 30, the Russian concept of collective security in the Persian Gulf has been distributed as an official document approved by the UN.
The Russian document envisages an initiative group to prepare an international conference on security and cooperation in the Persian Gulf, which would later lead to establishing an organisation on security and cooperation in this region. China has welcomed the Russian initiative and offered to contribute to its success — “We would also like to boost cooperation, coordination and communication with all the corresponding parties.” Of course, this is going to be long haul since the US and Britain will only see any such regional security architecture as heralding the end of the western hegemony in the Middle East.
What makes the Russian concept of collective security in the Persian Gulf highly topical is that it is couched in an initiative in immediate terms to establish demilitarised zones in the region, which in turn would obviate the need for any permanent deployment of squads of non-regional states and instead seek the establishment of hot lines between the militaries involved to communicate and resolve emergent contingencies from time to time.
Clearly, the Russian proposal flies in the face of the Anglo-American plot to create a western naval armada led by the US to take control of the 19000 nautical miles in and around the Strait of Hormuz that will put the West effectively as the moderator of the world oil market — with all the implications that go with it for international politics — and literally reduce the oil-rich Persian Gulf countries to de facto pumping stations. The Anglo-American strategy is to prey upon the deep concerns of the oil-consuming countries of Europe and Asia over energy security against the backdrop of the rising US-Iran tensions. No doubt, the Trump administration, with the help of BoJo’s UK, hopes to mitigate Washington’s international isolation ensuing out of its exit from the JCPOA last year in May.
Nonetheless, the time may have come for the Russian initiative to gain traction. The Iran-UAE joint meeting to address littoral security cooperation in Tehran on July 30 is a tell-tale sign that the Persian Gulf states may have begun to realise that the endemic insecurities of the region ultimately require a regional solution although the predatorial Western governments—and their military-industrial complexes — who exploit the Gulf divisions to secure lucrative arms sales running into tens of billions of dollars annually, will not easily retrench from the region.
It must have come as a shocking reality-check for Saudi Arabi and the UAE that Trump who had a marvellous “war dance” with King Salman hardly two years ago in Riyadh and has locked in the two counties to the standoff with Iran, has lately switched attention to their bête noire, Qatar, “to share a history of friendship based on common efforts and mutual respect”, as the joint statement issued recently after the first official visit by Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to the White House puts it.
The joint statement unabashedly summed up the outcome of the emir’s visit:
The Qatar Airways purchase of five Boeing 777 Freighters.
The Qatar Airways commitment to purchase large-cabin aircraft from Gulfstream.
The Chevron-Phillips Chemical Company LLC and Qatar Petroleum agreement to pursue the development, construction, and operation of a petrochemicals complex in Qatar.
The Qatar Ministry of Defense’s commitment to acquire Raytheon’s NASAM and Patriot Systems.
The selection by Qatar Airways of GE jet engines and services to power its 787 and 777 Aircraft.
Trump was beside himself with joy in his remarks effusively praising the Qatary emir. It cannot be lost on the UAE and Saudi Arabia that Trump is making suckers out of them.