Iran’s Relations with the Arab States of the Gulf: Common Interests over Historic Rivalry
Iran’s relations with its neighbours have never been smooth. During the monarchy, for example, while Iran cultivated close relations with Saudi Arabia it at the same time competed with Riyadh for control of the oil market and also for influence in the Middle East. With Iraq, equally, the Shah followed a complex strategy of deterrence and appeasement. But things changed dramatically following the revolutionary overthrow of the Pahlavi order and the rise of an overtly Islamist republic opposed in equal measure to monarchical and secular republican forms of government. This in itself forced a revision of relations between Tehran and its Arab neighbours, and none more so than its relations with Iraq and Saudi Arabia. While the eight-year long war with Iraq dramatically affected Iran’s relations with all of its neighbours, it is interesting to note the continuity of policy as much as the changes in Iran’s approach towards its neighbours. After the Kuwait war in 1990/91, which removed Iraq as a powerful actor in the Persian Gulf sub-region, the wider region had to adapt itself to a steady rise in tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Tensions over Iran’s power projections following the 2003 Iraq war and the demise of Iraq’s Sunni-dominated political class have since the Arab uprisings developed into a full regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The struggle for control of Sham, Iraq, the Arab Levant, and the fringes of the Arabian peninsula have turned the rivalry into a veritable regional cold war atop of which sit Iran and Saudi Arabia. In this power struggle Tehran and Riyadh are deploying every weapon in their policy toolkits with the tragic result of intensifying inter-communal tensions and hardening the arteries of dialogue and compromise. Indeed, the region arguably has never been so unstable as it is today, which ironically has made it the battlefield for the power plays of a small group of states. So, to understand the dynamics of change taking place in this vitally important region of the world one would have to focus on the politics of the two powers still very much standing – the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – for together, but against each other, these countries are writing the history of the next generation of Arabs. But for a fuller picture one must go beyond their domestic imperatives and focus on the drivers of their policies in the wider Arab region, which, thankfully, this book sets about doing admirably well.
- Gulf Studies [31 items ]