Carlos Barria / Reuters A staff removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives of Unites States, Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during the Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria July 14, 2015.

Bridging the Gulf in the Gulf

Regional Peace After the Iran Deal

Well before the ink was dry on the historic nuclear deal between the P5+1 negotiating partners and Iran, opponents of the Obama administration’s policy were advocating strategies to roll back Iran and thwart its ambitions for regional hegemony. Although the agreement will reduce the chances of Iran going nuclear for at least the next decade or more, this drumbeat will only grow louder as Tehran’s coffers, nearly empty after years of sanctions, begin to swell again. Although Iran is certainly playing an extremely dangerous role in Syria and its support for Iraqi militias is troubling, the most vocal champions of rollback often exaggerate the extent of Iran’s actual control over its proxies and downplay the more localized roots of conflict in the Levant.  But they are right to underscore the need for the United States and its partners to counter Iranian actions that threaten important U.S. interests in the region. 

A pro-government protester holds up a placard as she participates in a rally to show support towards GCC Union, in al Fateh Grand Mosque in Manama, May 19, 2012.

A pro-government protester holds up a placard as she participates in a rally to show support towards GCC Union, in al Fateh Grand Mosque in Manama, May 19, 2012.

What is missing from their prescription for rollback is any notion that constructive engagement with Iran—and integrating it into a new and more inclusive Gulf security architecture—could help to restrain its dangerous behavior. In fact, since the 1990s, Iran’s behavior in the Gulf has been relatively tame when compared to its militancy in Iraq and the Levant. Arab Gulf diplomats themselves appear to implicitly recognize that their competition with the Islamic Republic can be compartmentalized. “Engage in the Gulf, contain in Iraq, and rollback in the Levant,” said one Saudi diplomat in 2007.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—is the region’s only multilateral security forum. However, it excludes Iraq and Iran. In fact, it is a de facto collective defense alliance aimed at Iran. It also shuts out outside powers with a strong stake the region’s security and its vast energy resources, including China, India, Japan, the European Union, Russia, and the United States.

More importantly, the existing GCC

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