Iran forming alliance with Gulf states
According to Iranian media, Iran’s navy commander, Shahram Irani, announced that Iran and Saudi Arabia, along with three other Gulf states, are planning to establish a naval alliance. The alliance aims to enhance security in the region and will also include India and Pakistan. Commander Irani emphasized the importance of cooperation among regional countries for ensuring the area’s security. The specifics of the alliance were not disclosed, but Iran has been working on improving its relations with various Gulf Arab states in recent times.
In a China-mediated agreement in March, Saudi Arabia and Iran put an end to seven years of hostility and emphasized the significance of regional stability and economic cooperation. Commander Irani stated that the participating countries in the alliance will include the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar, Iraq, Pakistan, and India.
The reports of this joint naval force aimed at protecting security in the Persian Gulf emerged following the UAE’s announcement of its withdrawal from the US-led Combined Maritime Forces, which operates in the Gulf waters. Nonetheless, the UAE stated its commitment to ensuring navigation safety in its own seas in accordance with international law.
Israel’s failed isolation of Iran
Israel’s diplomatic efforts to isolate Iran have faced challenges due to Saudi Arabia’s recent rapprochement with Iran. This development has been a source of frustration for Israel.
In 2020, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) became the first Gulf Arab country to sign a normalization agreement with Israel, marking a significant shift in regional dynamics. However, despite this agreement with Israel, the UAE resumed formal relations with Iran the following year, further complicating the situation.
Following the UAE’s lead, Bahrain and Morocco also established diplomatic ties with Israel, expanding the number of countries normalizing relations.
In an interview with Press TV, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian emphasized that Iran’s active participation in various international organizations and alliances, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Eurasian Economic Union, and recently BRICS, demonstrates the failure of global efforts to isolate Iran. Amir-Abdollahian made these remarks following meetings with foreign counterparts from Brazil, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Comoros, and Gabon during his visit to Cape Town, South Africa, for a foreign ministerial meeting of the BRICS group.
He highlighted that countries and alliances act based on their own interests, and Iran’s strong message is that it cannot be isolated or marginalized. The senior Iranian diplomat underlined Iran’s significant geopolitical, geostrategic, and geo-economic status in the region. He stated that Iran firmly opposes unilateralism and is committed to making the most of existing opportunities within the framework of multilateralism.
Amir-Abdollahian’s comments reaffirm Iran’s stance on global engagement and its insistence on being an active player on the international stage, leveraging its strategic position in the region.
This adds to the news of the rapprochement between long-time regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran in March, that sent shock waves through the Middle East and dealt a symbolic blow to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has made the threat posed by Tehran a public diplomacy priority and personal crusade.
The US’s withering influence in the region
According to Gerard Filitti, a senior counsel at the Lawfare Project and an expert in national security and counterterrorism, the formation of the naval alliance in the region could have different purposes. He suggested that the navy’s primary role might be to combat piracy and drug trafficking, which would be less concerning. However, if the intention is to establish a defensive navy, it raises more significant concerns. Filitti believes that the creation of this alliance could be a deliberate snub towards the United States, including President Joe Biden. He points out that the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has deteriorated over time, and the U.S. has developed closer ties with Qatar. It is understandable that the Saudis might be worried about a perceived shift in American friendship.
Filitti also mentioned China’s potential broader interests in the Middle East. While the U.S. has seemingly been less engaged, particularly aside from the Abraham Accords, China has stepped in to fill the void. Filitti suggests that China may aim to position itself as a peacemaker in the region, which could provide it with greater access to oil resources. Additionally, he speculates that China might be deliberately stretching U.S. resources thin, potentially as a means to divert attention and weaken the U.S. while considering future actions concerning Taiwan.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced its withdrawal from the United States-led Combined Maritime Forces, citing an extensive evaluation of its security requirements. The decision was made two months ago and reflects the UAE’s ongoing assessment of effective security cooperation with its partners. The UAE expressed its commitment to diplomatic engagement and dialogue to promote regional security, stability, and navigation safety within the bounds of international law.
This development marks a significant turning point in the geopolitical landscape of the region, affecting the dynamics of international collaboration in maritime security. The coalition, consisting of 34 nations and headquartered at a US naval base in Bahrain, was initially established to combat terrorism and piracy in the Red Sea and Gulf areas. Given the strategic importance of the region’s shipping routes, there have been attacks on vessels during periods of heightened tensions between the US and Iran since 2019. The UAE, with its strategic position along crucial maritime trade routes, had been an active participant in the US-led coalition.
According to Andreas Krieg, an associate professor at King’s College London, UAE-US relations have experienced some difficulties, with Abu Dhabi perceiving the US as consistently falling short in its role as a regional security guarantor. This perception has led regional actors to diversify their security partnerships and fill gaps where possible. In an effort to regain influence, the US is seeking to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. During his visit to Saudi Arabia, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken expressed the US’s support for such normalization, but not at the expense of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front and the two-state solution.
Blinken acknowledged the challenges and complexities involved in achieving normalization, given the political dynamics in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Additionally, US officials must navigate actions by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that could strain relations with President Biden and worsen the perception of the kingdom among US lawmakers. These increasing tensions may impede negotiations for the conditions of normalization that Saudi Arabia seeks.
Despite this, the US has to face the new reality of Gulf countries as well as the Middle East in general shifting to more regional alliances independent of the previous US hegemony, and China is ready to take advantage of this.