Alwaght- Over the course of past few years, the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council’s relations with Iran, aside from regional developments and the two sides’ approaches towards each other’s foreign policy, have been by themselves confrontational and tense. These strained relations are caused by series of decade-long factors that deeply influence the form of the Tehran-(P)GCC ties.
First: Since regime change in Iraq that was caused by the US invasion of the Arab country in 2003, the daily violence that kept hitting across the country led to widened gaps between Iran and the six-nation Arab bloc. The gaps are still firmly existing. The same frayed ties also reflected on the domestic Yemeni conflict. Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of meddling in Yemen in favor of Ansarullah, a revolutionary anti-Saudi movement. To press Tehran in the region, Riyadh waged a war along with other allied Arab states against the neighboring Yemen.
Second: Identity difference is another element that destroys the trust between Iran and its Arab neighbors. Indeed, the ethno-religious differences have made the two sides to be predestined to be hostile to each other forever. Their relations saw highs and lows in various times, and each nation of the Arab bloc roughly has its own special relationship with Iran, but sectarian identity has persistently affected each side’s understanding of the national interests and interpretation of the opposite side’s behavior.
Third: Not all of the Persian Gulf states believe that Iran’s win is their loss. In fact, there are major differences in their approach towards Tehran. As the history shows, the small Arab monarchies have always sought good relations with the three large and powerful countries of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. This is especially observable about Oman which holds a long history of stable ties with Iran and the other Persian Gulf countries. Qatar, also a tiny island nation, has tried to stay neutral amid rivalry between the two key powers, Tehran and Riyadh.
Many regional and international media analyses appear to paint the rifts between Iran and the Arab council as stemming from the ethno-religious distinctions, but it should not be disregarded that they hold shared identities, including their Islamic and West Asian identity, which are common enough to be relied on for bolstered Arab-Iranian relations.
Forth- Iran’s uncompromising support for the oppressed nations as well as the anti-Western and anti-Israeli movements is another sticking point. Tehran has always raised its voice of opposition against repression of regional nations regardless of their Shiite or Sunni faith, and backed different currents rising against the region’s dictatorships as well as their foreign– predominantly Western– patrons.
Iran’s supportive approach– mainly spiritual and non-material– has majorly challenged the interests of some of Council’s regimes, a factor enough for them to stage Iranophobic propaganda and stand against Tehran as a rising power.
Since the victory of Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1997, many Persian Gulf nations have received effects from it. Rise of different democracy and reform-seeking movements inside some Arab countries like Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon is undeniably inspired by the Islamic Revolution of Iran, according to many experts.
A climactic point of tension between Iran and the (P)GCC, particularly Saudi Arabia, is witnessed in their stances which are in stark contrast on the Syrian and Yemeni conflicts. Still many analysts suggest that the two sides can go beyond the ethno-religious considerations and instead put a premium on seeking their common interests.
But implementation of this is significantly tied to a decline in the foreign actors' interventions in the region. However, regarding the current regional conditions and the (P)GCC members’ dependence on the US in terms of security provision, it does not seem likely to see an improved (P)GCC view of Iran which in turn can pave the way for boost of ties.