The relationship between the Arab States of the GCC and Iran is anything but straightforward. This paper will try to unpack the dynamics of these relationships in all their complexity.
The argument this paper will make is that the ambiguous and complex nature of the threat from Iran has made resolution of the conflict more, not less, difficult. This paper will focus on three areas. The first will be the ambiguities of the multilayered nature of the conflict itself and the fact that it is taking place within a Middle East that has devolved into a degraded state system, riddled by civil war. The second ambiguity relates to the unbalanced and asymmetric threat perceptions of the protagonists. Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain see Iran as their primary national security threat, while Iran sees the United States, and not the Arab states, as its primary nemesis. The third area of ambiguity is within the GCC itself, that is between the Arab states that see Iran as an existential threat and those which see Iran in less malign terms. These different perceptions of threat are based in different domestic political considerations, different interests with respect to Iran, and different strategic realities.
The paper ends with conclusions about the prospects for rapprochement between the GCC states and Iran. It looks at this in the context of the COVID-19 crisis and possible shifts in US policy toward the Middle East.