The Gulf Conundrum

The narrative advanced by the pro-Iran deal scholars and journalists is a simple one. It stonewalls the bitter facts and paints the picture of an Iran transformed from an axis of evil to a bastion of peace. The simplified discourse is fraught with many challenges and has big gaping holes in it. This has been discussed in detail during the last two months. What has also been discussed is the supposedly unfounded concerns of the Persian Gulf states towards a rising Iran. What's missing from the discussion is the genuine security dilemma that will emanate after the 'detente.'

The equation is simple. Gulf states have long relied on American security guarantee to focus on development. They needed this guarantee to safeguard their interests against an aggressive and meddlesome neighbor. The last three decades saw a near total transformation of the local economies. Sustained oil prices also helped the cause. While Iran continued with its disruptive policies in the region, the GCC states largely focused on a development agenda. Saudi Arabia, for one, did engage in some counterbalancing but it was part of the mutual antagonism.

The Iran deal and the new found love of some American scholars with Tehran has endangered this fine balance. The Persian Gulf states have responded to the threat -- and growing U.S. apathy -- by strengthening the Gulf Cooperation Council. The military offensive in Yemen is a testament to the changing dynamics of the region. The Obama administration tried to allay the fears of the GCC states with new promises of military supplies. This, however, doesn't address the problem.

Gulf states feel threatened by Iran and there are many reasons to believe in their concerns. The post-revolution Iran has embarked on a campaign of terror and destabilization in the region. It has not shown any remorse or an intention to undo its wrongs. A re-surging Iran with full coffers can be a recipe for disaster. Hezbollah and affiliated groups have carried out terror strikes in the Arab heartland in the past. The 1996 Al-Khobar bombing is one prominent example. Encircling the Gulf states through proxies is another one with the Houthi insurgency still raging in Yemen.

Syria is another big elephant in the room. There is massive anger on the Arab street over the too-little and too-late response to the terror that Bashar-al-Assad and his backers (mainly Iran) have perpetuated. After four-and-a-half years of terror, some reports indicate Iran is pursing an all-out ethnic cleansing policy. The aim is to keep the supply lines open for Hezbollah. If true, this doesn't augur well for regional security.

The Islamic State poses another threat. The encouraging factor is the growing consensus among the Gulf states to root out this (minor) evil. They've not been able to tackle the bigger evil: the Assad regime and Hezbollah. The problem lies within. The Gulf states, too, have some big skeletons in their closet. Silencing of dissent remains a major problem. Similarly, support for extremist outfits in the past also complicated the situation. It might have been an answer to Iran's policies, which was and still is supporting Shiite extremists and militias in the region. Still, it was not a workable solution and has backfired.

What the Gulf states need is a cohesive policy to tackle threats. The first priority should be to address internal chasms. There is a need for the opening up of society and social and labor reforms. Money alone can't solve all problems. Archaic laws and dominance of the clergy is another issue, especially in Saudi Arabia. This can't continue for long. Then there is the Syrian crisis. They have the capacity and resources to crush the beast by forging an alliance with Turkey and European partners. The refugee crisis has further highlighted the importance of a prompt action. They also need to accept a sizable number of refugees or provide generous aid, preferably in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

The Persian Gulf states need to get their house in order. Recognizing past mistakes and adopting workable future strategies is the way forward. The U.S. has not shown any eagerness to abandon them yet. It can't afford to do so either. The region is too important for the Americans. Still, the Gulf states need to have a more pro-active and rational approach towards regional security. A Gulf-Iran detente is also possible and will be the best outcome. It, however, remains a distant possibility for now. As long as the export of 'revolution' continues.