Gulf crisis progress to curtail Iran's influence: experts

By Hassan al-Obeidi in Doha


Nayef al-Hajraf, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), addresses the Manama Dialogue security conference in Bahrain's capital on December 6th, 2020. [Mazen Mahdi/AFP]

The progress made in recent days toward resolving the Gulf crisis between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt will positively impact regional security, narrowing Iran's chances of gaining a foothold, regional experts say.

It also confirms the considerable influence wielded by the US, which mediated the dispute along with Kuwait over the past few months to reach a resolution, they said.

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan told AFP last week that the kingdom and its allies the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt were "on board" to resolve the diplomatic crisis.

The Saudi-led alliance imposed an economic embargo on Qatar in June 2017 but an agreement to ease it is expected soon.

On Tuesday (December 8th), the UAE said it supports Saudi efforts to end the three-year Gulf dispute, Abu Dhabi's first reaction to recent statements suggesting the rift between the four countries and Qatar could soon ease.

The UAE "supports Saudi Arabia's benevolent efforts on behalf of the four countries", tweeted Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash.

"It looks forward to a successful Gulf summit," he added, referring to a meeting of the Gulf Co-operation Council regional bloc expected later this month.

Kuwait, which is leading the mediation efforts, said on December 4th that the countries involved in the dispute had "confirmed their commitment" to reach a final agreement and preserve "Gulf solidarity".

"We have achieved certain progress at a certain point of time more than a year ago, and then things have slowed," Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said at the Mediterranean Dialogues forum in Rome on December 4th.

"Right now, there are some movements that we hope will put an end (to) this crisis," he said without giving details.

"We believe that Gulf unity is very important for the security of the region. This needless crisis needs to end based on mutual respect."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he is very hopeful the crisis can be resolved and made on a "foundation that is lasting".

Significant positive spillovers for Gulf security

"The progress made toward resolving the Gulf crisis, which has been the most serious and complex crisis to hit the GCC since its establishment 40 years ago, is a success of the US's diplomatic efforts," said Gulf affairs expert and member of the Research Centre at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, Mansour al-Mukhaini.

Achieving reconciliation is crucial to the Gulf's unity, he said.

The resolution will close the door to regional interference and attempts to exploit the crisis "to achieve the economic, security and political interests of certain countries", al-Mukhaini said, in reference to Iran.

Cairo University political science professor Mahmoud Qandil said resolving the Gulf crisis will have significant positive implications for the region's security and political stability.

"The Iranian [regime] appeared to be a major beneficiary of the Gulf crisis over the past three years as Qatar was forced to divert its [Qatar Airways] aircraft to pass through Iranian airspace, and the same applies to maritime shipping," he told Al-Mashareq.

Qatar has also had to rely on Iran for the import of goods and perishables instead of neighbouring Gulf states, as was the case before the crisis erupted, he said.

"Ending the crisis will be tantamount to cutting off a funding stream for the Iranian regime that has been a boon for it over the past years," said Qandil.

The New York Times has reported that Qatar pays $100 million annually to fly over the Islamic Republic, citing diplomatic sources.

Increasing Iran's isolation

Ahmed al-Hamdani, a researcher at al-Rafidain Centre for Dialogue, said resolving the Gulf crisis means "greater isolation for Iran and the contraction of the space in which it can manoeuvre to evade US sanctions".

The Iranian regime has used the Gulf crisis as one outlet to alleviate the sanctions imposed on it, through the revenue it generated from airspace fees imposed on Qatar for instance, he said.

Al-Hamdani noted that US mediation efforts confirm "Doha's geopolitical importance for Washington, while at the same time blocking the Iranian regime from pursuing certain agendas and objectives by exploiting the crisis".

Qatari writer and journalist Jaber al-Harami stressed the importance of resolving the Gulf crisis because "it extinguishes the fire in the GCC".

In a statement to Qatar TV, he said the region has witnessed many changes in the recent period, and "the crisis is inflicting losses and constant hemorrhaging to all sides".

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