Hints of Gulf Rapprochement: Iranian Tactics May Be Paying Off

Hassan Rouhani (Wikimedia Commons)

by James M. Dorsey

Fears of a potential military conflict with Iran may have opened the door to a Saudi-Iranian dialogue against the backdrop of a rethink of US military logistics, involving at least a gradual partial relocation to the United States of command and control operations based in the Gulf for almost four decades.

The relocation does not necessarily signal a reduced US commitment to the defense of the strategic energy-rich region even if it comes amid Gulf suspicions that the United States is gradually withdrawing from the Middle East.

Nonetheless, the move, officially intended to reduce the vulnerability of US military assets to a potential Iranian strike without decreasing the United States’ operational capability, is bolstering a rethink in capitals across Eurasia, including Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo, New Delhi, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh about possible alternative, more collective and multilateral security arrangements in the Gulf.

The arrangements would involve the Gulf states, Russia, China, the US, the European Union and India as well as other stakeholders, a likely reference to Iran. By necessity, it would require a lowering of tension in the region and a degree of accommodation between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi urged Gulf states “to establish a platform for dialogue and consultation” in which countries from outside the region would play a role in maintaining security in the region.”

Mr. Wang was speaking days after Iranian president Hassan Rouhani proposed a security arrangement that would be limited to countries in the region.

In a variation on the theme, Narayanappa Janardhan, a prominent Indian Gulf researcher at the United Arab Emirates’ Emirates Diplomatic Academy, suggested that a new regional security architecture should be Asian-led.

US President Donald J. Trump’s transactional approach towards foreign and defence policies in which countries are expected to shoulder their fair burden and pay for US defense services coupled with the president’s long-standing assertion that China and others dependent on energy supplies from the Gulf are free-riding beneficiaries of the US defence umbrella and his withdrawal early in his presidency from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional trade pact, has sparked doubts across Asia about the wisdom of depending on the United States for energy security.

In a sense, the Gulf states and Asian nations are in a bind. The United States may no longer be reliable but despite the various calls for a new security arrangement few realistically see an alternative.

“Having just spent three days in Moscow, I’m convinced the Russians haven’t the faintest clue how to operate any architecture in the Gulf...let alone a security architecture,” tweeted Gulf scholar Michael Stephens.

Concern that military retaliation for last month’s attacks on two key Saudi oil facilities would spark a regional war have sparked a flurry of diplomatic activity and a search for non-military responses as the United States and Saudi Arabia point the finger of responsibility at Iran.

Iran has warned that military retaliation by the United States and/or the kingdom would spark a war that would spread to the Gulf, including Iranian targeting of installations in the region.

Mr.. Trump’s cautious reaction to the attacks coupled with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s stated preference for a non-military response constitute the latest developments in recent months that have opened the door to the Chinese-backed Russian proposal for a collective security arrangement that would reduce US influence in the region.

Saudi and Iranian leaders, in a gleam of hope that the two countries may be inching towards one another, expressed an interest in resolving issues politically rather than militarily.

The political and peaceful solution is much better than the military one,” Prince Mohammed told CBS News when asked about a possible military response to the attacks on the kingdom’s oil assets.

Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani responded saying: “The doors of Iran are open. A Saudi-Iranian dialogue can solve many of the region’s security and political problems.”

In a further hopeful development, Saudi Arabia was reported to be considering a partial ceasefire in Yemen. Earlier, the Houthis declared a unilateral halt to the fighting. Mr. Larijani said Iran was advising the Houthis to accept whatever ceasefire was on offer.

At the same time, Iraq suggested that it had established a backchannel between Riyadh and Tehran.

“The Saudis have conditions before the negotiations process starts and the same with Iranians. We have liaised these conditions to each side. It is not an easy task to get together two opposite sides in terms of their ideology, sect and their alliances in the region,” said Abbas al-Hasnawi, an official in the office of Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

“Saudi Arabia’s conditions are that Iran minimise its role in Yemen and Syria and stop supporting armed groups such as the Houthis. It also asks the Syrian regime to solve its problems with the Syrian opposition groups, and to write a constitution for Syria with all parties agreeing on it,” the official said.

“If there will be a potential deal in the region that includes Yemen, Syria and Iraq, the Americans have no problem with that,” Mr. Hasnawi added.

While there is every reason to be sceptical despite the noise that Saudi Arabia and Iran are anywhere near resolving their differences, talk of dialogue and calls for a Yemen ceasefire suggest that Iran’s strategy of strategic escalation may be producing results.

Iran moved earlier this year away from its initial strategic patience response to the US withdrawal from the 2015 international agreement curbing the Islamic republic’s nuclear program to a strategy of gradual escalation.

Escalation tactics include a step-by-step breaching of the agreement and a more aggressive asymmetric military posture involving the seizing of a British vessel that was released last week, alleged attacks on tankers off the coast of the UAE, and allegedly the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities.

Said Eldar Mamedov, an advisor to the social-democrats in the European parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee: The “sequence of events shows that, thus far, the Iranian strategy of calculated counter-escalation is working… By escalating on its own, Iran forced a number of key players to change their cost-benefit calculus.”

Republished, with permission, from The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

James Dorsey

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture.



  1. The Ayatollah regime energy supplies 6% of China’s energy needs. For 40 years they have fuelled China and all the big US and EU multinationals. But Trump is forcing all of them to go to other East Asians like Vietnam. At the same time China has different plans for the Ayatollah regime. It needs to be paid for work it has done and once that is paid they will get their oil from Saudi Arabia.

    The only choice that remains for the Ayatollahs is to flood the oil black market and use Crypto payments on global scale to attract an alternative to US supremacy.

    As I mentioned months ago. The oil routes are all now secure and the price of oil will fall. And it has. It will get worse for the Ayatollah regime. The people of Iran are used to their sanctions and they are taking care of themselves. In the meantime the ports of Iran will get jammed up with container ships that cannot unload, because the shipping companies and seller trade with the US.

    The people of Iran will witness the various factions of Ayatollah regime self destruct. No secular non-violent Iranian will give them a fight. We will watch this virus to get contained and quarantined.

  2. « Having just spent three days in Moscow, I’m convinced the Russians haven’t the faintest clue how to operate any architecture in the Gulf…let alone a security architecture, » tweeted Gulf scholar Michael Stephens. Just three days?, this guy ia clearly a genius, or rather isn’t he a C.I.A. operative? If these are the sources for James M. Dorsey, good luck!!!

  3. Tactical military moves to increase resilience of US forces to an Iranian attack say nothing about the US strategy for regime change. Pompeo will continue to try to get the President to give the go ahead as long as he is in office. The Saudis have begun to understand the massive, obliterating force that the US would use if authorized, and are realizing that their world would inevitably see large scale destruction as a result. That explains MBS talking about a non-military solution. But that won’t satisfy Pompeo or Israel and its backers. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a peaceful resolution as long asTrump is President.

  4. Which gulf are you talking about? I’ve been reading your text clueless about the the region in which the writer is pointing out! at some point I suspect whether has he talking about the gulf of Mexico! I believe we need a historical lesson on this matter. so repeat after me:
    Persian Gulf….Persian Gulf…..Persian Gulf…..Persian Gulf……..Repeat enough so get the hang of it.
    After all you do not want the reader assume this valuable peace of analysis is somehow biased!!!!!!! DO YOU

  5. In 1978/79, just a few years after British had pulled out of Persian Gulf and US had lost a major war in southeast Asia, which forced US to accepted China as the new dominant power in Asia pacific, again, when earlier US was internally divided and weaken at home by antiwar movements and Watergate investigations, and above all, when the US was leading the west to the height of bipolarity between USA and USSR, the world political atmosphere became reap for Iranians with a strong message and a strong leadership to free themselves of two hundred years of blood sucking western domination and become independent and sovereign. IMO, today the political atmosphere is once again becoming possible for a few strong on massage, with a strong leadership to brake loose from grip of these murderers. US has lost not only one but at least 2 major long wars of choice she started , domestic polarity has become more divided than anything I remember in this last 40 years and we have started a new multi polar world which US is at odds with almost everyone else in world including he allies. I hope a few more determined countries like Venezuela, Syria, Yemen, etc. can break loose and can join a new world order of world sovereigns. I say their task is even easier than the struggle that Iranians had to endure.

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