The Gulf’s ‘Fear of Iran’

Reduced to a sectarian conflict by many, the “danger of Iran” must be evaluated as a security issue affecting both political and physical assets of the Gulf countries.

As the Syrian crisis turns its fifth year, regional countries and international actors have failed to find a solution to the crisis and adopt a common policy against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) as the group is nurtured by crises in the region; therefore, continues to grow out of control. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran, as the notables of the region, have also failed to sit around the table and find a solution since the dawn of the Arab revolts. In this setting, analysts interpreted last week’s possible rapprochement between Turkey and Saudi Arabia as a step by Saudi Arabia to strengthen the Sunni bloc in order to balance out Iran’s expansionism by contributing to normalize Egypt. In addition to this, as a result of the Iranian effect clearly felt with a coup by Houthis in Yemen, and under the influence of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi’s hawkish attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood has been brought to focus. The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to the Saudi capital Riyadh, within the scope of the current nuclear talks with Iran, indicated the international power’s involvement in the Saudi-Iranian equation and led to questions marks about how Iran influences Saudi’s national and foreign policies.

Considering that the latest diplomatic moves by Saudi Arabia are regarded as efforts to form a Sunni block against Iran’s increasing influence in the region, the question that needs to be asked is what lays behind the Gulf’s fear of Iran. In fact, the “Iran danger”, which is simply reduced to a sectarian conflict by many, must be regarded as a security issue affecting both political and physical existences of the Gulf States. A different assessment does not serve any other purpose but deepen the never ending wounds of the region.


As known, the Gulf countries substantially depend on the United States concerning their security. In case of danger, such guarantorship does not mean that the U.S. will fight for the Gulf countries, but signifies the power of the U.S. deterrence in the region. However, both politicians and analysts in the region agree on that the U.S. should not be banked on to achieve sustainable security in the Persian Gulf. In fact, the Gulf countries have established the Cooperation Council (GCC) to this end and allocated large amounts of budgets for military-security investments. The Gulf countries are ranked in the upper rows of military spending in the world. According to the Global Defense Trade Report prepared by the IHS, an international U.S. consultation firm, Saudi Arabia replaced India as the largest importer of defense equipment worldwide and took the top spot with a $6.5 billion military expense in 2014. Another Gulf country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is also ranked high with a $2.2 billion defense import figure. The UEA, together with Saudi Arabia, imported weapons more than that of Western Europe countries combined. Although the Gulf States have high-tech, large number of weapons, they are far from being self-sufficient about providing for their own security. Low population is also a serious problem for the Gulf countries, so their militaries mostly consist of foreign mercenaries. Therefore, if the Iranian nuclear program continues, the security balance in the Gulf will definitely change in favour of Iran – a country of which the number of troops almost is double that of the Gulf States.


The U.S. invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan had led Iran to expand its area of influence in the region; and with the Arab uprisings this area has enlarged trough Syria and Yemen. The Gulf countries were concerned when Iran mobilized Shiites in this area and followed a policy accordingly. Although the Gulf governments were worried about active political Shiite opposition in their countries, it is inaccurate to say that the perception of Iran’s becoming a danger for the Gulf States arises from the Shi

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