Monday, September 29, 2008

Is Iran The Bad Boy of the Gulf?

There is much more than Shiah in Iran context. This vast and beautiful country has great history and people as well as oil to offer to the world. Iran is seen as the only country left to strike on Israel without fear and Israel's recent plan to attack Iran was only thwarted by US...if the report was correct...otherwise, if it really happened, we would have a different situation now.
There is a big number of Iranians making Dubai as first home with a long historical link. Iranian community here is somehow wealthy and influential with their own business network and 'mafia'. Iranian Hospital for example has been providing affordable medical service for all nationalities and very popular.

I have Iranian friends as well as colleagues but we do not talk about politics or religion, except when Israel is the topic of the conversation, then we are Muslims kind of brotherhood come alive.

Iran fishing in troubled waters

Recent reports on the presence of cells of Iranian spies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and the skirmishes over the differences of opinion of religious scholars from Sunnis and Shiites sects respectively are distinctive factors which are shaping the strategic scene in our neighbourhood.
This will also continue to influence the outcome of the on-going policies in shaping the future of our volatile region, which continues to oscillate between peace and the ominous prospect of a cataclysmic war, in the final months of the waning Bush administration.
The US seems to be divided on how to deal with Iran. Hawkish neoconservatives are opposed to those who are in favour of a dialogue with the Islamic Republic. Against this background, there is also a bipartisan call made by four former US secretaries of state calling on the next American president to open up a dialogue with Iran. They have argued that "diplomacy is talking to your adversaries and not only to your allies".
On the other hand, four former US officials, Richard Holbrooke, James Woolsey, Dennis Ross and Mark Wallace wrote an editorial piece in the Wall Street Journal in which they highlighted the dangers of a nuclear Iran.
"Everyone should be worried about Iran," they wrote and stated that "a nuclear-armed Iran would likely destabilise an already dangerous region that includes Israel, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, and poses a direct threat to America's national security".
Further, they said that "to lay the groundwork for effective US policies in coordination with our allies, the UN and others by a strong showing of unified support from the American people to alter the Iranian regime's current course.
The American people must have a voice in this great foreign-policy challenge, and we can make a real difference through national and international, social, economic, political and diplomatic measures".
However, we cannot rule out an October surprise - an agreement between the US and Iran, such as the one that was made 29 years ago by Ronald Reagan that ended the US hostages crisis. It too was made in October.
The Emir of Qatar, Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, pointed out recently in Syria that the GCC states have no problem with Iran, except for the occupation of the UAE three islands of Abu Mousa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs. Nevertheless, the GCC-Iran schism seems to have been inching towards more confrontation and tension due to the lack of confidence building between the two sides.
Apprehension
Clearly, there is apprehension in the GCC states over Iran and its grandiose expansionist design in the region. They fear that Tehran is keen to fill the strategic void in the region and exploit it in its favour. If Iran achieves its goal, it will become the most influential country in the region and will hold the keys to various strategic and potentially flashpoints in the Middle East.
Moreover, it is now benefiting from the Russia-Western standoff over Georgia, which is inching towards another cold war. Thanks to US miscalculations, the toppling of Saddam Hussain's regime in Iraq and the Taliban's in Afghanistan have worked to Iran's advantage. As such, the Islamic Republic has become a regional power by default.
The concern of the GCC vis-a-vis Iran is not limited only to Tehran's policy in Iraq, they are worried about its nuclear programme, its repeated threats to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, its perceived attempt to spread Shiism, and the bullying of the region. What's more, they are alarmed at Iran's lack of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the damning report presented by the IAEA on Iran's nuclear programme.
Iran's menacing actions in the past few weeks are more alarming and created a flutter in the GCC states. Tehran has opened an administrative office in the UAE's island of Abu Mousa. All the GCC states in a joint statement lambasted Iran's illegal act. Members of Al Shura Council of Saudi Arabia equate Iran's occupation of the UAE islands with the Israeli occupation of Arab land. In retaliation, Iran ejected the bureau chief of Al Arabiya TV, the Saudi owned pan Arabist news network.
Meanwhile, a leading Sunni religious leader, Shaikh Yousuf Al Qaradwi, an Egyptian with Qatari citizenship warned about the menace of Iran with its Shiism brand of Islam threatening Sunni countries in the Middle East.
To make matters worse, Kuwaiti Members of Parliament claimed that there are about 25,000 Iranian revolutionary guards in Kuwait disguised as Iranian expats working in Kuwait! What fanned the flames even further was a report, published by a first-time Kuwaiti MP in a leading Kuwaiti newspaper, which stated that Iran could occupy Kuwait to make things difficult for the Americans in order to deter them from launching a military strike against Iran. What was frightening was, the MP's insistence that some of the spies are Kuwaiti citizens. These revelations brought to the fore the loyalty issue, once again. A couple of years ago, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak asserted that most Shiites in the Arab world are loyal to Iran and not to their own countries. King Abdullah of Jordan, too has sounded a warning of a Shiite crescent stretching from Iran to Lebanon.
However, the presence of Iranian covert operators was denied by Kuwait's Minister of Interior Shaikh Jaber Khalid Al Sabah, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Defence Minister Brigadier General Mustafa Mohammad-Najjar. The Iranian embassy in Kuwait too denied such assertions.
However, in an interview with Gulf News, Adel Alassadi, a former Iranian diplomat who is living in exile, confirmed the presence of a network of Iranian spies in the GCC states.
Such claims and counter claims stoke more tensions and fear in a region described as a powder keg with many matches stoking it from many directions. The real challenge for all the concerned players in the region and beyond is how to navigate the region away from the abyss which no one wants to fall in.

Dr Abdullah Al Shayji is Professor of International Relations and the Head of the American Studies Unit - Kuwait University.

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