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Gulf countries try to avoid a conflagration

Photo: Menahem Kahana Agence France-Presse Israel foiled an unprecedented attack launched by Iran on Saturday evening. Some 350 drones and missiles were intercepted by the Israeli air defense system.

Talek Harris – Agence France-Presse, Robbie Corey-Boulet – Agence France-Presse, Callum Paton – Agence France-Presse in Dubai and Doha

April 16, 2024

  • Middle East

Gulf states are scrambling to avoid a widening conflict in the Middle East, which would jeopardize their security and their ambitious economic reform plans.

Their leaders initiated a series of diplomatic contacts after the unprecedented attack launched by Iran on Saturday evening against Israel, which raises the specter of a regional conflagration, against a backdrop of war between the Israeli army and Palestinian Hamas in Gaza.

Geographically, these countries are on the other side of the Gulf from Iran, which places them in the front line.

In addition, military installations of the United States, allies of Israel, are located in the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Council heavyweights, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have already suffered attacks on oil installations by the Houthi rebels in Yemen, supported by Iran.

Diplomatic contacts

In the event of an attack on Iran, Tehran could “be tempted to retaliate against the GCC given its proximity and the multitude of [potential targets that are] difficult to protect”, predicts Ali Shihabi, a Saudi analyst close to the Royal Palace in Saudi Arabia.

According to him, “Iran has just learned how difficult it is to reach Israel thousands of kilometers away”, unlike the GCC countries, while Israel said it had foiled the Iranian attack including 350 drones and missiles, almost all of which were intercepted by Israeli and allied air defenses.

Gulf countries share a belief: “Conflict is bad for business and avoiding it is now a top priority,” emphasizes Andreas Krieg, Middle East specialist at King's College London.

On Sunday, Emirati President Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan spoke with the Emir of Qatar and the kings of Jordan and Bahrain, according to state media, while Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, spoke to the Iraqi prime minister.

As part of these contacts, the Qatari Prime Minister and the Saudi Foreign Minister spoke with the head of Iranian diplomacy, while the Saudi Defense Minister held talks with his counterpart American.

For his part, the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, discussed on Monday with the Iranian president the “need to restrict all forms of escalation and avoid the extension of the conflict in the region”, according to the official Qatari agency.

The stakes are high for the rich Gulf countries, long-time allies of the United States: their costly economic diversification plans, aimed at ensuring their post-oil future, are based on a stable environment conducive to business and tourism.

The world's largest crude exporter, Saudi Arabia has launched an ambitious reform program, which aims to transform the ultraconservative kingdom into a center for business, tourism and sport.< /p>

“Very delicate position”

His “absolute priority” is that “the crisis does not get worse,” Ali Shihabi told AFP.

Saudi Arabia also wants to take advantage of its renewed ties with Iran after a long break and its good relations with the United States.

“Saudi Arabia will use its ties with the United States to pressure Israel for a ceasefire in Gaza and not to respond to the Iranian attack” on Israel, says Umer Karim, researcher in foreign policy and Saudi politics at the University of Birmingham.

Oman, close to Iran, remains an essential mediation channel. And Qatar has the advantage of being home to Al Udeid, the largest American military base in the region, explains Mr. Krieg.

“Concerning the Strait of Hormuz or Bab al-Mandeb, [the Omanis] have deeper networks and are probably the most effective mediators,” he believes, in reference to the channels strategic navigation centers of the Gulf and the Red Sea.

According to Mr. Karim, any further deterioration of the situation would leave no good choice for the Gulf.

“The conflict is gradually generating a new regional balance […], with Israel supported by the United States on one side and Iran” and its allies on the other, believes -he.

Meanwhile, an escalation puts the Gulf states “in a very awkward position, because they don’t want to side with either side. But they will be affected no matter what.”

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116