A Gulf-Iran détente in the making?

A Gulf-Iran détente in the making?
Comment: The situation in Yemen has people worried that war between Iran and its Arab neighbours is imminent. In secret, Iran knows its influence is shrinking, says Thaer Ghandour.
3 min read
26 Apr, 2015
Iran and the Gulf states have been at loggerheads since the 1979 Islamic Revolution [Getty]
Gulf leaders will meet US President Barack Obama at Camp David on 13 and 14 May.

A Gulf diplomatic source believes that the US president will use the meeting to ask Gulf leaders to improve ties with Iran.

"We do not have any problem about this," the diplomat told al-Araby. "But Iran has proceeded to fragment Arab societies and fight Arab states."

Patching up differences

The source citied alleged Iranian interference in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq as examples.

The Gulf diplomat said that Iran had left no Gulf issue alone, with the aim of fomenting security tensions.

This corroborates views that allege that the reasons for the Saudi-led military operation against Houthi rebels in Yemen was to improve the standing of Gulf countries at the negotiation table with Iran.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are rushing to achieve as many gains on the ground as possible before possible Gulf-Iran talks begin.

Since February, Iran has been accused of attempting to help the Syrian army make military breakthroughs against Saudi-backed rebels.

On Syria's southern front, Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Hizballah and other Iran-backed militias are reported to have tried to capture territory close to the Jordanian border.

Although unsuccessful, the Syrian regime - with alleged Iranian assistance - has attempted to retake the city of Aleppo and the loyalist towns of Nubol and Zahraa.

     Saudi Arabia and Iran are rushing to achieve as many gains on the ground as possible before possible talks begin.

In the interior, the regime and Iran-backed forces have tried to end attacks by the Nusra Front and Free Syrian Army on their bases in the Qalamoun region.

However, all these efforts have failed.

The Syrian opposition is now on the offensive, seizing the city of Idlib, and the strategically significant town of Jisr al-Shughur.

Rebels have also taken control of the Nasib crossing with Jordan, which had been one of the last border points under regime control.

Military breakthroughs

Arab countries and Turkey have reportedly stepped up their assistance to the Syrian opposition.

In Yemen, the Houthis, a Zaydi-Shia militia that Iran is accused of supporting, have expanded their control from their heartlands in Saada into the capital Sanaa and then on into the south.

Saudi Arabia responded by bombing the rebel group and obtaining diplomatic cover from the UN Security Council to prolong its military campaign in Yemen.

In Iraq, Tehran has attempted to wipe out the Islamic State group, but only made gains when they accepted air support from the United States.

While Saudi Arabia has reluctantly admitted that Iraq will remain within Tehran's sphere of influence, Riyadh is trying to secure some gains for its allies there.

Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Gulf allies are attempting to strengthen the opposition political umbrella, the Syrian National Coalition, and strengthen its relationship with armed rebel groups inside Syria.

In Lebanon, there is a belief that stability there remains a key international demand.

Even among the most pro-Iranian politicians, few believe that Saudi Arabia and its allies are considering taking on Hizballah.

Depite Riyadh's harsh rhetoric against the militias, many believe that Hizballah is now part of the US counter-terrorism strategy in the region.

There is even talk that Hizballah and the Saudi ambassador in Beirut are in negotiations about toning down the mudslinging.

Nevertheless, stability in Lebanon cannot be guaranteed exclusively through international cover.

There have been reports of increased activity by militant sleeper cells - but with fighting in its neighbour so vicious and intense, few would want to replicate this nightmare scenario in Lebanon.

Thaer Ghandour is a journalist based in Beirut. He tweets in Arabic at @thaerghandour

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.