According to experts who testified before the Congressional Foreign Affairs Committee, American and Gulf State relations will be tested in the pending Iran deal, especially given the agreements which were decided at the Camp David Summit earlier this summer.
"While many of these announced measures would mark a step forward in U.S.-GCC relations, much will depend on follow-through in the months and years to come—particularly with regard to countering Iran’s destabilizing activities," Michael Eisenstadt, Kahn fellow and director of the military and security studies program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said before Congress on Thursday.
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"Absent action on this front, many of the announced steps are unlikely to have a significant impact on the broader fabric of U.S.- GCC relations, and on Washington’s ability to influence the policies of particular GCC allies that it finds problematic," Eisenstadt said.
Agreements reached at Camp David included the United States vowing to contain Iranian aggression and prop up GCC states in the face of Iranian threats in an effort to promote regional stability and security.
"The administration’s efforts to negotiate a ‘comprehensive, verifiable deal that fully addresses the regional and international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program’ and reaffirms the parties’ willingness ‘to develop normalized relations with Iran should it cease its destabilizing activities’ and ‘their belief that such relations would contribute to regional security,’" he said.
However, Eisenstadt also mentioned that the United States is failing to provide concrete and appropriate protections to GCC states, in light of the type of threat they are facing. He said the United States’ words to GCC leaders are not providing a sense of alliance or security despite the administration promising conventional military weapons and technology in establishing a foreign military sales procurement office to process GCC-wide sales, and that there is a lack of trust between the two parties.
"Obama administration’s tendency to frame and implement measures to assure the GCC states in ways that tended to exacerbate, rather than allay their fears," he said, "Tehran is unlikely to engage in the kind of conventional aggression that would provide its neighbors (and the United States) with reason to respond by conventional means. It is much more likely to engage in subversion and proxy warfare, as it has done in the past and continues to do today."
J. Matthew McInnis, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute added, "[At Camp David] the GCC’s strong undercurrent of mistrust with U.S. regional policy, let alone the damaged U.S.-Saudi relationship, was very evident."
The GCC faces constant threat by Iran, as Iran has been consistently attempting to rearrange the balance of power in the Gulf region for decades in the form of making coalitions with other governments in the area, such as Syria, and terror organizations, such as Hamas.
"Tehran seeks to spread its concepts of Islamic governance, to oppose the state of Israel, and to assert its regional hegemony by displacing the United States as the dominant regional power," McInnis said.
"The solidification of the Tehran’s position in Damascus and Beirut solidified its position in the Levant. Iran’s Sunni neighbors, notably the GCC states, were increasingly alarmed about expanding Iranian influence in the Middle East, but were unable to develop an effective means to push back against Tehran’s growing influence and power."
As Iran sees the GCC states aligning with America, the country has inflated its rhetoric, especially toward Saudi Arabia, whom they feel the most animosity toward.
"In the aftermath of Camp David and amid the escalating war in Yemen, Iranian rhetoric towards Saudi Arabia and other GCC members has only become more heated," McInnis said. "A more active Saudi Arabia poses a risk to Iran’s long-term objectives. Iran may even be worried Saudi Arabia, backed by Gulf state money and U.S. military support, will begin effectively using Iran’s own playbook of regional proxy warfare against it."
Contrary to the administration’s belief that a deal with Iran will subdue its hegemonic ambition, experts say this is contrary to the truth. They said Iran will not want other regional actors under the impression that they align themselves with the United States in the aftermath of sanctions relief, and that they will likely make some gesture to make that clear.
"Despite the unprecedented diplomatic engagement we have had over the past two years with Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has not shown any indication that a nuclear deal will fundamentally alter Iran’s regional policies towards the United States, our allies in the Gulf, or Israel. The IRGC may initially become even more assertive against the United States or Israel as the Iranian leadership tries to re-establish its anti-Western and anti-Zionist credentials following a nuclear deal," McInnis said.
The outcome of the deal will undoubtedly trigger aggression in the region, and the United States will have to mitigate. In an attempt to re-balance power, Saudi Arabia is threatening to harness its own nuclear capability, pushing out the United States from the Middle East power vacuum.
"The Arab Gulf states, and Saudi Arabia in particular, are in a position to redouble their efforts to build a civilian nuclear infrastructure with possible military dimensions. Individuals close to the Saudi leadership have been making reckless but unsurprising threats in this regard, suggesting that they view an Iranian nuclear deal as the starting gun in a decade-plus race to build their own nuclear capabilities to match," David Weinberg, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said.
"It is incumbent on U.S. officials across various components of the government to unambiguously condemn these irresponsible Saudi statements and threats. It is intolerable when Tehran behaves in this manner, but it is also intolerable for U.S. allies to blackmail us with their own threats of such roguish behavior," Weinberg said.
Weinberg said the United States will need to maintain a presence in the Middle East and certain sanctions on Iran to squelch violent conflict and ensure Iran’s restraint.
"The United States should fight aggression by the IRGC and its proxies regardless of any nuclear agreement. Without doing so, it is impossible to truly reassure our Gulf allies, and it is crucial for ensuring the stability and balance of the region. It is up to Congress and the administration to ensure that if sanctions are lifted, they are not removed from entities that remain involved in supporting terrorism in the region," he said.
"Iran did not seek a region-wide sectarian conflict, but it is in the midst of one now," McInnis said.