Losing Faith in the U.S., the Gulf States Are Turning to Its Enemies

Yesterday, the Iranian foreign ministry announced an upcoming visit from the emir of Qatar—a country recently designated a “major non-NATO ally” by Washington. Such a move is typical of Doha’s diplomatic approach, as Danielle Pletka explains:

Almost alone in the Middle East, the small emirate of Qatar has managed to walk the balance beam between powerful actors: housing a key U.S. air base, al-Udeid, and enjoying a defense pact and major non-NATO ally status with the United States, all the while maintaining friendly relations with Iran; hosting senior leaders of U.S.-designated terrorist groups including Hamas, the Taliban, and assorted other terrorist actors; and continuing to finance and promote Al Jazeera, a vast media network that routinely pushes anti-Israel, anti-U.S., pro-Iran, and pro-Muslim Brotherhood messaging.

This strategy has in the recent past put Qatar at odds with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other Gulf states. But that’s changing, as these countries have dipped their toes in reconciliation with Iran and its Syrian client state while working to improve relations with Russia and China. Pletka writes:

For Washington’s traditional Gulf partners, particularly the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, everything revolves around the question of who will defend them against Iran and its proxies. In the Obama era, the answer was clear in their minds: the United States would be on Iran’s side. . . . But many believed Obama was an aberration. Hope revived in the Trump era, but it quickly became clear after Iranian-sponsored attacks on key Saudi oil facilities that even the most virulent of Iran’s foes in the White House would not spring to Riyadh’s defense. Needless to say, Biden’s team—peopled by former Obama administration officials and a vice-president who made denouncing Saudi Arabia a key element of her foreign policy—would not be an improvement. Thus solidified the Gulf’s era of hedging.

Tehran’s willingness to take advantage of Gulf hedging is a shrewd strategy. It doesn’t signify any alteration in Iran’s overall ambitions for itself and its proxies, but it does underscore a willingness to play the game that Qatar copyrighted. And in the short term, that willingness may diminish the open war of attrition between the region’s Sunnis and Shiites and cement in place Iran’s hegemony over Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen. More importantly for the United States, it means an almost complete loss of influence in the region.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Barack Obama, Gulf Cooperation Council, Iran, Joseph Biden, Kamala Harris, Qatar, U.S. Foreign policy


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount