The Arab Gulf States and Iran

Roots of Rivalry in the Gulf Regional System and its Manifestations

The ACRPS has published The Arab Gulf States and Iran: Roots of Rivalry in the Gulf Regional System and its Manifestations (416 pp.), edited by Marwan Kabalan. It features 12 studies on the subject of the Arab Gulf states’ relationship with Iran by 12 scholars, both Arab and non-Arab of American, Pakistani, Iranian, and Russian backgrounds. The authors are specialists in the fields of energy security, weapons of mass destruction, and counter-terrorism; the Arab-Israeli Conflict, US foreign policy, Asia-Middle East relations and geopolitics; Pakistani relations with Gulf states, Chia, and India; democratization, authoritarianism, and political Islam; relations between the Middle East and Southeast Asia; Muslim-Christian relations, Islamic political thought, and Gulf strategic affairs; Turkish studies, US-Iran relations, international cooperation, and energy geopolitics in the Gulf; Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, and the Iranian economy.

In recent decades, the issue of Gulf-Iran relations has received wide attention from experts on the region’s affairs. It has become a highly controversial topic after expanding beyond strained relations between neighbouring countries and onto the regional and international level, given its association with the policies of the Great Powers, especially the United States. Further, with its growing demographic footprint, Iran has come to represent a strategic challenge to the Gulf states on account of its revolutionary regime, its strategy of “exporting the revolution” to nearby countries, and its regional and foreign policy centred on meddling in the affairs of others. The Arab Gulf States and Iran investigates the issue through its contributors’ open discussions of Gulf-Iran relations, historically and presently. The book sheds light on the roots of the rivalry, the impact of domestic, regional, and international factors on exacerbating it, and the future of relations in light of significant, rapid changes in the regional and global order.

The book is divided into four sections and 12 chapters. Chapter 1 illustrates the concentration of tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the areas of proxy conflict in the Middle East, divergent threat perceptions, and the array of attitudes to Iran (from adversary to existential threat) among Gulf states. Chapter 2 probes the conflict’s consequences in light of geopolitical data, exploring its ramifications for Gulf regional security and avenues for much-needed cooperation. Chapter 3 discusses the changes that it describes as having a catastrophic impact on Gulf states’ ties with Iran from 2015 to 2020, amid the GCC states’ declining influence in the Middle East (2003-2015) through the nuclear deal, the 2017 blockade of Qatar, the Russia-Iran alliance, Hezbollah’s domination of Lebanon, and the war in Yemen.

Chapter 4 studies the Saudi-Iranian struggle for regional supremacy since the fall of the Shah in 1979 and its causes, such as ideological inclinations and relations with the United States. Chapter 5 addresses geographic, demographic, ethnic, and sectarian characteristics, the long legacy of cultural rivalry across the banks of the Gulf, and factors that have negatively impacted both parties’ relations with the global political order, Arab countries, and Israel for the past three decades. Chapter 6 explores how decision-making in Iran is split between the presidency, the Revolutionary Guard, and the Supreme Leader, and how any decision is liable to clash with a security obstacle, the United States: the party responsible for security in the region.

After tracing bilateral relations from Ayatollah Khomeini to Ahmadinejad, Chapter 7 answers the following question: what impact has Rouhani’s legacy had on Iran-Gulf ties? Chapter 8 discusses Iran’s experience in the Middle East historically and geographically, which it identifies as a product of political and nationalist geography, Islam, economic circumstances, and relations with the United States. Chapter 9 considers whether the Biden administration can overhaul its strategy in the region to become a guarantor of security, focusing on the American role in the strategic rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Chapter 10 discusses the rise in oil prices in the 1970s and the early 21st century at the mere possibility of a reduction in Gulf exports, then the subsequent change whereby the interests of oil consumers were no longer significantly affected. Chapter 11 analyses the Saudi and Iranian concepts of Gulf security by discussing the most important Gulf initiatives on the matter and their efficacy, concluding that the West has followed a policy of maintaining a power balance in the Gulf, while Russia, China, and India have promoted the concept of multilateral, multidimensional, comprehensive security. Chapter 12 sheds light on Pakistan’s role in and impact on Gulf-Iran ties, its cooperation with Gulf states, and the fleeting, yet renewed cooling of relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

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