Iran’s nuclear deal with the West was finally signed and sealed last week amid much fanfare. The West, including the US, is happy that more cheap oil will now flow in its direction. At the same time Tehran is happy that all moratoriums on its exports and imports have been lifted and billions of dollars of its frozen accounts in the West are again available for spending.
But where does this deal leave the Arab Gulf countries, Iran’s immediate neighbours across the ocean?
In a not very happy situation.
Recent Arab-Iran History
A look at the last half a century’s history would show that Iran has consistently played the role of a filibuster and a thorn in the flesh of Arab Gulf countries, especially Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia. And while during the regime of western sanctions there was a measure of checks on its sinister manoeuvres owing to its concerns – if not fear – of how the West would react to its moves, that concern is there no more. The West and Iran have again become bosom pals so recently that the former cannot be expected to growl at it for any wrong-doing as long as it only hurts the Arab Gulf countries’ interests.
In the past, Iran has laid claim to Bahrain and even though the Shah had given up all pretensions to that claim in signed and sealed accords, the Islamic regime that replaced the Shah has continued to revive those claims. Failing on that score in the face of the international community, the next best thing it has decided to do is covertly support troubles in Bahrain by way of funding terrorist activity in the Kingdom, training people to carry out attacks and supplying them with weapons.
As for the UAE, Iran has continued to occupy the three islands of Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunbs belonging to Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah [two of the seven constituent emirates of the UAE] despite all peaceful efforts to retrieve their possession. For the last couple of years it has also been involved in backing the rebel Houthi factions in Yemen, an Arab country neighbouring Saudi Arabia, to subvert the regime there which has necessitated Bahrain, the UAE and Saudi forces to make a joint effort to dislodge them.
There was hardly any let up in Iran’s activities on this front even when it was under pressure from western sanctions; therefore it is futile to assume that invigorated by the lifting of sanctions it will mend its ways. And while earlier the Arab Gulf countries could look up to the west in the sordid belief it might tighten the screws on Tehran, that possibility has vanished with the signing of the nuclear deal.
Us Ambassador to Bahrain Worked With the Opposition
The truth of the matter is that at least in the case of Bahrain, even during the era of Iran sanctions the US was not disposed to be sympathetic to its cause, perhaps meaning to curry favour with Iran in order to hasten the resolution of the nuclear issue. This became evident when the US ambassador in Bahrain was found to be openly hobnobbing with the opposition and tutoring it while the government was holding talks with the latter. So much so that a number of Bahrain MPs went to the extent of submitting to the King an appeal to expel the ambassador.
The ground reality is that on many levels Iran and the Arab Gulf countries do not need each other. Both are oil-producing entities so the biggest attraction to come closer and resolve issues in the manner of the West is absent from this scenario. And they do not have much to trade by way of agricultural produce, machinery, electronics or foodgrains either. The Arab Gulf obtains all of these from the West or from the Arab countries up north such as Jordan or Lebanon. And the many western products which would earlier come to Iran via the sanctions-busting dealers in Dubai or elsewhere in the Gulf at a premium can now be obtained by it much cheaper directly from the source countries.
Gains To Iran Mean Losses To Arab Countries
Therefore now that Iran is in a much stronger position psychologically in the wake of the signing of the nuclear deal, it is futile to look for the West’s intercession to resolve the Arab-Iran issues. The nuclear deal has brought everything to Iran but virtually nothing to the Arab Gulf countries.