A Tense Atmosphere in the Arabian Gulf

  • 3 July 2008

As soon as the Arabian Gulf shakes off the effects of a regional crisis, it is confounded by another. Currently, it is being exposed to a series of mutual declarations, warnings, and threats in connection with the Iranian nuclear crisis, an affair some believe may not concern the GCC countries themselves for many reasons. They are not a battlefield for exercising the mutual threats and are not immediate parties in any possible confrontation. Even wars generally are no longer fought according to traditional tactics, theories, and vehicles. Moreover, any potential Israeli-Iranian standoff will have its own exceptional operational character. But what we and everyone else see are specifically Iranian threats that affect its neighbors, the GCC countries, and their immediate economic interests. Media reports speak of some Iranian officials' pronouncements about "open scenarios," activating "sleeper cells" loyal to Iran or working on its behalf, targeting Gulf oil installations, closing the Hormuz Strait, and other options of direct effect on the security and interests of the Gulf states.

The atmosphere of tension and instability in the Arabian Gulf is no secret. It is reflected in what officials from GCC countries say, in opinion pages in recently-published Arab and Gulf newspapers, and even in oil prices that are vulnerable to everything in our region, positively and negatively. Its indicators fluctuate up and down according to the latest "assurance" issued by this side or threat leveled by the other. It goes without saying that threatening others and alluding to targeting their interests will only result in less confidence across the shores of the Gulf and will abort attempts by the states of the region to ensure security and stability so that the peoples of the Gulf will devote their efforts to winning the real battles of development and construction.

Whatever the truth may be between Iran and the West, and aside from the real intentions of the protagonists in the Iranian nuclear crisis, the Arabian Gulf region holds its breath and awaits the outcome of the nuclear cat and mouse game. Sometimes, Iran raises the stakes and resorts to threats; at others, it scales back its rhetoric and speaks of dialogue. On the other hand, the international community is divided into those who threaten the use of force and those who keep looking for political alternatives and exits that spare this important region of the world the scourge of a potential military confrontation. This game's motto are speculations and ambiguity, and it provides analysts and media outlets a thriving marketplace of excitement and entertainment. Its victim remains the atmosphere of security and stability craved by the peoples of the Gulf, some of whom have paid – and continue to pay – high prices for ill-advised military adventures and wars in which they have no stakes at all.

The current situation in the Iranian nuclear crisis is pregnant with expectation and rife with speculation. It is an accurate translation of brinksmanship that is evident through mutual pressures and each party's effort to maximize its gains and squeeze out the most concessions from the other. The result so far has been a continuation of an atmosphere of crisis until strategic and negotiating alternatives are found, or until further notice.