The Disintegration of the Saudi Sunni Bloc
For the past two years, the Gulf states have been part of a Sunni
bloc established by Saudi Arabia to counter Iran's aspirations for
regional hegemony. During this period, Saudi Arabia made efforts to
distance Iran from "Arab affairs," while the Gulf states were already
in political conflict with Iran over the issue of the three islands
(Greater and Lesser Tunb, and Abu Moussa) that Iran had forcefully
seized from the UAE in 1971, and following recent statements by senior
Iranian leaders threatening Bahrain's sovereignty.  Some in Saudi Arabia even called on the Gulf states to form a military alliance against Iran.  This Gulf policy vis-à-vis Iran was in line with U.S. efforts to isolate it in both the regional and the international arenas.
Qatar is the only Gulf state that has refrained from cooperating
with the Saudi-Gulf bloc. In fact, for the past decade, it has
consistently taken an anti-Saudi line, and has allied itself with the
opposing Iranian-Syrian axis. As part of this axis, it supported
Hizbullah in the U.N. Security Council by working to block Resolution
1701, and, unlike other GCC states, it refrained from condemning the
Hamas takeover of Gaza. Qatar also made efforts to prevent the
isolation of Syria by being the only Arab country to abstain in the
vote over Security Council Resolution 1737 that would establish an
international tribunal for the Al-Hariri assassination. In addition,
the Qatari government TV station Al-Jazeera consistently attacked Saudi
Arabia and supported Iran and Syria, as well as their proxies Hizbullah
The Saudi-Gulf bloc collapsed about six weeks ago when Qatar,
in an unprecedented move and without consulting the other Gulf states,
invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to attend the summit of
the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Doha. (The Saudi magazine Al-Majalla called this collapse "the end of the American game." 
) The Gulf states, surprised but acquiescent, accepted this
Iranian-Qatari dictate, albeit grudgingly - despite the fact that Iran
had not made any placatory statements regarding its nuclear program,
the issue of the three islands, or the threats recently made by Iranian
leaders against Bahrain.
The disintegration of the bloc was also the result of two
additional factors. The first was the U.S. National Intelligence
Estimate report, released by President Bush during the GCC summit,
which assessed that Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program. The
report, which lifted the threat of an American military attack on Iran,
was publicly seen as an Iranian victory, and allowed Iran to take a
more aggressive political tack vis-à-vis the Gulf states. As part of
this, Ahmadinejad presented at the GCC summit a 12-point program of
Iranian-Gulf economic and military cooperation.
The second factor contributing to the collapse of the bloc was
the growing concern in the Gulf that the very publication of the NIE
report, as well as the U.S.-Iran negotiations over the Iraqi issue,
indicated a shift in U.S. policy towards an understanding with Iran,
which would come at the expense of the Gulf states' interests.
Though the Gulf states responded coolly to Ahmadinejad's
proposals at the summit, and though they protested that, in his speech,
he had failed to allay their concerns over Iran's aspirations for
regional hegemony, and had referred to the Gulf as "Persian" rather
than "Arabian," the Iranian president did manage to achieve his aim; at
the summit, several senior Gulf officials spoke of strengthening
relations with Iran.
The American reaction to the collapse of the Saudi-Gulf bloc
was to dispatch U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to the Gulf for an
immediate visit, during which he repeated his call to the Gulf states
to unite and to force Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment.
The Saudi reaction to the collapse, on the other hand, was
hesitant and unclear. By inviting Ahmadinejad to the summit, Qatar had
breached its agreement with Saudi Arabia to refrain from steps that go
against the consensus within the Arab League. 
But despite this, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal
expressed support for the invitation; moreover, following the summit,
Saudi King 'Abdallah invited Ahmadinejad to attend the Hajj ceremonies
in Mecca. The only Saudi criticism of Ahmadinejad's invitation to the
GCC summit came from the editor of the Saudi pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Tariq Alhomayed. 
The collapse of the Saudi-Gulf bloc did not change the Gulf
states' position towards the U.S. Nor can Iran attain real hegemony
over the region at the present time, due to its precarious economic
situation, and due to the fact that the Gulf states' governments are
predominantly Arab and Sunni. Nevertheless, spokesmen for the Iranian
regime have capitalized on the events of the past two months,
presenting them as a historic turning point in Iran-Gulf relations, as
a change in the political power balance in the Gulf, and as a
significant achievement of Ahmadinejad's foreign policy, which, they
said, had proven that Iran cannot be isolated in either the regional or
the international arena.
The disintegration of the Saudi-Gulf front may impact the
future willingness of the Gulf states to be part of a pro-American
front in the region. Voices in the Gulf have expressed concern over the
inconsistency of U.S. policy, and have questioned whether the Gulf
states can rely on the defense of the U.S., suggesting that these
states should have an independent policy towards Iran, rather than
being aligned solely with the U.S. 
The Qatari Role in the Collapse of the Saudi-Gulf Bloc
Qatar and Iran attempted to obscure the circumstances of
Ahmadinejad's invitation to the GCC summit, but it soon became clear
that the invitation had been extended by Qatar in response to a request
by Iran, and without consulting the rest of the Gulf states. During the
first day of the summit, Ahmadinejad said at a press conference that he
had come on an official invitation by Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin
Khalifa Aal Thani, and added: "What difference does it make if one
requests to be present [at the summit] or if one receives an
invitation? The important thing is that we are here and that we are
taking part in the summit." 
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim bin Jaber Aal
Thani said that the invitation had been extended "as part of the effort
to conduct a constructive dialogue with an important neighbor," and
that forging stable relations with Iran would serve the interests of
the Gulf states. 
He added: "I do not believe that we can solve our problems by cutting
Iran off from the region, since it is an important player." 
Throughout the summit, Qatar continued its effort to moderate
the furious reactions of some Gulf states to Ahmadinejad's invitation.
To allay the anger of the UAE leaders, Qatar arranged a meeting between
the UAE president and his Iranian counterpart, as well as between the
foreign ministers of the two countries. 
Furthermore, Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasim defended
Ahmadinejad's use of the term "Persian Gulf" rather than "Arabian Gulf"
in his speech at the GCC summit, stating that "the Arabian Gulf has
historically been called 'the Persian Gulf,' 'the Arabian Gulf' being a
modern term." 
The Qatari media also published articles in praise of the
invitation. For example, columnist Fawwaz Al-'Ajmi wrote in the Qatari
daily Al-Sharq: "The invitation to the Iranian president… was a
timely, wise and sensible [move]… since Iran is a neighboring Muslim
country, and the wellbeing and prosperity of its Muslim people has a
positive impact on the peoples of the Gulf states… [We] have the same
enemy, and our goal must also be the same… Moreover, Iran's vigor is
its neighbors' [economic] vigor, and its military power must support
and complement that of its brothers in the Gulf…" 
The rest of the Gulf states acquiesced to Qatar's dictate, as
evident from the official statements issued Gulf officials. Bahraini
Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Aal Khalifa spoke of
"Gulf-Iran rapprochement… which strengthens the security in the region
and enhances its stability." 
Omani Foreign Minister Yousef bin 'Alawi bin 'Abdallah, during his
visit to Iran, spoke about "a new chapter in cooperation between Iran
and the GCC states." 
GCC Secretary-General 'Abd Al-Rahman bin Hamed Al-'Atiyya
likewise made favorable remarks about the latest developments, stating
that the Gulf states would like to "dissociate the military aspect"
from Iran's nuclear issue, and that the GCC was seeking solutions that
would lead to security and stability, as well as to dialogue as a means
of resolving the crisis." 
Al-'Atiyya further stated that Ahmadinejad's invitation to the Hajj
ceremony pointed to a "genuine desire" on the part of the Gulf states
"to strengthen Islamic solidarity." 
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal likewise expressed
no reservations about the invitation, pointing out that the country
hosting [the summit] was free to invite whomever it wished. 
However, when asked to comment on the suggestions made by Ahmadinejad
at the summit, Al-Faisal was more circumspect, observing that while
they were conducive to economic cooperation in the region, "other
issues which have remained unsolved must also be taken into
consideration, [including] Iran's nuclear dossier and the UAE islands
currently under Iranian occupation - since these are important issues
that form the basis for economic collaboration and [general]
cooperation between Iran and the GCC states." 
In contrast to the statements made by the Gulf officials, the
Gulf media published numerous reports of dissatisfaction with Qatar's
moves. Al-Siyassa reported that the majority of Gulf leaders
were not happy with the Iranian president's appearance at the summit,
seeing his invitation as a Qatari attempt to strengthen its ties with
Iran at the expense of other Gulf states.  The Foreign Minister of a Gulf state told the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat:
"No one consulted with us… We found out about [the invitation] from the
media." He added that, in the Gulf, there were reservations concerning
Ahmadinejad's participation, "especially since it had been decided
without any preliminary inter-Gulf coordination." 
Kuwaiti MP Khudhayr Al-'Anzi told Al-Arabiya TV that Ahmadinejad's
presence at the summit had been "a manipulation that had served
Ahmadinejad himself," and that "[Ahmadinejad's] speeches about the
Persian Gulf were seen as a provocation."  In a similar vein, a Bahraini diplomat told the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa
that it was the UAE leaders who were most outraged by Ahmadinejad's
presence at the summit, in light of the conflict over Iran's occupation
of the three islands. 
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported that, following the
controversy over the Iranian president's invitation, a closed session
had been held during the summit over the need for an official body that
would be in charge of inviting heads of state to future Gulf summits. 
Kuwaiti columnist Nasser Al-'Utaibi wrote in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa
that Iran's intentions were not clear and that it was not to be
trusted: "…We can still feel the duplicity of Iran's political message.
Ahmadinejad, in his speech [at the summit], unjustifiably repeated [the
term] 'the Persian Gulf.' In addition, he did not mention the issue of
the [three] islands belonging to UAE which are still under Iran's
occupation… The issue of Iran's nuclear program still remains unclear.
We cannot understand why a country rich in oil and natural gas would
insist on a nuclear program, while having enormous energy sources at
its disposal… Is it trying to [develop] a weapon, in order to control
the Arab Gulf states? Is it trying to blackmail the small Gulf states
into submitting to its claims and its policy, as well as its religious,
political, ideological and practical extremism?..." 
The Role of the NIE Report in the Collapse of the Saudi-Gulf Bloc
The NIE report, in addition to being perceived as a significant
Iranian victory, removed the threat of a U.S. military attack on Iran,
giving rise to concerns in the Gulf that the report could herald a
U.S.-Iranian understanding which would compromise the safety of the
Columnist Mazen Hammad wrote in the Qatari daily Al-Watan:
"It is clear that there has been an unprecedented breakthrough in the
relations between Iran and the Arab states... This breakthrough was
made possible by the decrease of international pressure on Iran, which
came after the NIE exonerated [Iran] of striving to develop nuclear
weapons... Many think that this exoneration supplies the Gulf states
and Egypt with the excuse they need in order to improve their relations
with Teheran... The Gulf states would not have given Iran all this
attention... had they not been convinced that these steps [i.e. the NIE
report] were meant to prepare the ground for dialogue between Iran and
the U.S." 
The deputy editor of the Bahraini daily Akhbar Al-Khaleej,
Al-Sayyed Zahra, asked why the Gulf states had changed their attitude
towards Iran when the latter had not changed its policies at all. He
presented an analysis which suggested that the NIE report was one of
the reasons for this development:
"What new development caused the change in Arab-Iranian
relations? On what basis has it occurred?... As usual, the Arab
governments are giving us, the Arab citizens, no explanations...
Therefore, we have no option but to review the assessments of the
various analysts and of others who are following this matter...
"After the publication of the report by the NIE report... the
Arab states assessed that the time was ripe for greater rapprochement
with Iran and for greater openness [towards it]... The Arab governments
assessed that the publication of the [NIE] report might indicate a
possible change in U.S. policy towards Iran, and this naturally led to
greater openness towards this country on the part of the Arabs."
Zahra expressed a concern that future U.S.-Iran dialogue may
come at the expense of the Gulf states' interests: "We now see America
wooing Iran and invoking the option of diplomatic dialogue [with it],
and perhaps even more than that - an agreement that would resolve the
crisis. What exactly is behind these [new] positions and moves? And
what are the Arabs' interests in this [situation]?... Is it conceivable
that, within a couple of days, Iran's position and role in Iraq has
changed so radically? Is it conceivable that, within a couple of days,
Iran has gone from being one of [the forces] that arm and support the
militias [in Iraq] to being [a force] that restrains [these militias]
and helps to stabilize the region? Of course it is inconceivable." 
Iran Celebrates Its Achievement
Iranian leaders boasted of recent steps taken by Iran to improve
relations with the Gulf states, speaking of "a new age of cooperation"
and of "a great leap" in Iran-Gulf relations. 
President Ahmadinejad stated in a recent speech: "I hope that this new
process [of Gulf-Iran rapprochement] will expand, benefiting the
peoples of the region and keeping the enemies away from it... Iran has
already announced that its participation in the GCC summit marks the
dawning of a new age in inter-region relations..." 
Iranian officials stressed that Iran-Gulf rapprochement was a
strategic goal of Iran's. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammed Ali
Hosseini stated in his weekly press briefing that cooperation with the
Gulf states was a top priority in Iran's foreign policy, saying:
"Stronger ties [between Iran and the Gulf states] spell more security,
peace, stability and quiet for the Gulf states." 
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Said Al-Jalili said during
a visit of the 'Omani foreign minister to Iran that "a Gulf of
friendship" was not just a slogan but an Iranian strategic outlook. 
The Iranian daily Kayhan, which is close to Iranian
Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, stated in its December 4, 2007 editorial:
"The invitation of Ahmadinejad to attend the GCC summit... as a special
guest conveys two very important messages to the U.S. and the West.
[Firstly, it indicates that] the isolation of Iran is impossible.
Secondly, [it indicates that] America's effort to form a united Arab
front against Iran has failed... Did the Annapolis circus [manage to]
bring about Iran's isolation? Did the Arab states join America's
coalition against Iran?... Ahmadinejad's participation in the Doha
summit... was a clear sign that America's attempt to divide the
countries of the region had failed. We cannot rule out [the
possibility] that America will continue to make every effort to harm
and isolate Iran, but it will never be able to prevent the emergence of
Iran as a symbol of Muslim strength in the Middle East and the world.
The path of hostility towards Iran is becoming narrower every day." 
Iranian sources also stated that Iran was emerging as a regional
power, and was being recognized as such by its Sunni Arab neighbors.
The head of the political bureau of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards
Corps (IRGC), Yadallah Javani, wrote in the weekly Sobh-e Sadeq,
the mouthpiece of Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei circulated among the
IRGC: "Iran's political handling of its nuclear [program] presents a
new model of nuclear [progress] to the countries of the region. Some of
the Arab countries in the Persian Gulf are officially announcing that
they wish to use nuclear power... Iran [hereby] declares that it is
willing to extend any kind of assistance in order to help in the
advancement of the Muslim states, especially in the [Gulf] region... In
these [new] circumstances, the summit of the GCC - founded 27 years ago
with the aim of confronting Iran - feels that a productive relationship
with Iran is the best way to safeguard the interests of its
member-states, and to guarantee the strategic security of the Persian
"Iran's participation in the summit, for the first time in the
history of the GCC, is a turning point in the [history of] the Persian
Gulf... The repeated failures of America's Middle East policy have led
the region to a new stage... An Islamic Middle East is becoming a
reality. America's power in the region is fading... and the age of the
American empire in the Middle East is ending. In parallel to these
developments, Iran's power is growing... so that everyone [now] sees it
as the leading power in the Middle East. Iran's entry into the nuclear
club... changes the [power] balance in the Middle East..." 
Resentment towards Iran, especially over its "interference in Arab
affairs," was expressed on several occasions by Saudi Foreign Minister
Prince Saud Al-Faisal. In a March 2007 interview with Newsweek,
he reported that, during a meeting between the two, Saudi King
'Abdallah had bluntly said to President Ahmadinejad: "You are
interfering in Arab affairs... Whether you deny it or nor, this is
creating bad feelings for Iran and we think you should stop it."
Al-Faisal added: "[Iran's] interference in Arab affairs is creating a
backlash in the Arab world and in the Muslim world." Newsweek (U.S.), March 29, 2007.
Articles in the Gulf press warned against the Iranian threat, and
called on the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to form a
united front against it. Saudi columnist Yousef Al-Kuwailit wrote in
the daily Al-Riyadh: "Why aren't [the Gulf countries] taking
any interest in establishing their own joint [military] force...? Have
we forgotten how Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait? Have we forgotten the
Persian shah's threats to invade Bahrain, and the reiteration of those
same threats by a senior Iranian official just a few weeks ago? Have we
forgotten the dispute between Iran and the UAE over the [three]
islands? The [conflict] has not yet reached alarming proportions, but
we must be careful..." Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), November 1,
2007. For further details on the call to form a military alliance to
repel the Iranian threat, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1769, "Saudi
Columnists Call on Gulf States to Form Anti-Iran Front,"November 20,
 Al-Majalla (Saudi Arabia), December 22, 2007.
In a September 2007 meeting with Saudi King 'Abdallah bin 'Abd
Al-'Aziz, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Aal Thani promised to
keep his country's mediation efforts - especially with regards to
Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon - in line with understandings reached by
the GCC and the Arab League. Al-Jarida (Kuwait), September 25, 2007.
Alhomayed wrote that the invitation was a reward that Ahmadinejad did
not deserve, and added: "Inviting someone like [former Iranian
president Mohammad] Khatami would have been understandable, since he is
one of those who call for dialogue and coexistence. Had they invited
someone of [Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar] Hashemi Rafsanjani’s
caliber, we might have said that he is a pragmatic leader with whom a
political agreement is possible. Ahmadinejad, however, is the opposite,
and inviting him only [strengthens] him in Iran vis-à-vis those who
claim that he is placing his country at risk." Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 4, 2007.
 In an editorial in the UAE daily Al-Ittihad, Columnist
Khaled Al-Dakhil wrote that a feeling is emerging in the Gulf that "the
American umbrella of defense is not providing the necessary stability
in the region, but has actually become a source of instability... There
are signs indicating an expected change in the security strategy of the
GCC states." Al-Ittihad (UAE), December 12, 2007.
Columnist Dr. 'Abdallah Al-Shaiji likewise described the Gulf
states' concern over the inconsistency of U.S. policy, alongside their
fears regarding Iran's intentions: "...We have the right to be
concerned about [the possibility of a] war, and about [the possibility
of an Iran-US.] agreement... We see Washington's oscillations [in its
relations with] Tehran... first escalating the nuclear [crisis] and
then withdrawing [from its position], warning about the nuclear threat
in 2005 and then dismissing this threat, with great confidence, [in
2007]. [We saw America] wooing [Iran], warming its relations with it,
and negotiating with it over Iraq. Then [we saw] the failure [of these
negotiations] and their [subsequent] renewal... How long will we
continue to be pawns and victims in the great chess game that
Washington is playing in the Middle East with the last member of the
'Axis of Evil,' which will cease to be regarded [as such] after the
U.S. signs an agreement with it...?" Al-Ittihad (UAE), December 17, 2007.
Saudi Columnist 'Adel Al-Tarifi called on the Gulf states not to
be complacent about the NIE report, and to "reorganize, [step up] their
security and economic cooperation, and exert heavy pressure on Iran..."
in order to defuse the Iranian threat. Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), December 19, 2007.
In contrast, others argued that there was no alternative to the
alliance with the U.S. Kuwaiti MP Khudhayr Al-'Anzi said, "In light of
the security situation, which is on the brink of explosion, and the
talk about Iran's progress towards the attainment of nuclear weapons,
the Gulf states cannot afford to abandon their security agreements with
the U.S. For who would [then] protect our oil [wells]? Who would
protect the Gulf economy?... Al-'Arabiya TV, December 4, 2007.
Qatari reformist 'Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari wrote in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Jarida:
"The Gulf states are too sensible, wise, and intelligent to replace
someone who has supported them, stood by their side in times of
disaster, assisted them in liberating their lands and in delivering
themselves from the evil neighbor, and supplied them with means of
development and progress... with [Iran]. We must tell Iran clearly and
without embellishments: Your nuclear plants are a threat to both us and
yourselves, and there is no substitute for our Western and American
ally." Al-Jarida (Kuwait), December 10, 2007.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 4, 2007.
 Al-Raya (Qatar), December 5, 2007.
 www.gulfinthemedia.com, December 9, 2007.
(Kuwait), December 5, 2007. A Bahraini diplomat pointed out that, while
the Iranians had described these meetings as "friendly," UAE sources
had refrained from commenting on them, which was a sign of the
 www.elaph.com December 4, 2007.
 Al-Sharq (Qatar), December 4, 2007.
 Akhbar Al-Khaleej (Bahrain), December 27, 2007.
 IRNA (Iran), December 30, 2007.
 Bahrain News Agency, December 10, 2007.
 Al-Hayat (London), December 16, 2007.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 12, 2007.
 Kuwait News Agency (Kuwait), December 11, 2007.
 Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), December 5, 2007.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 4, 2007.
 Al-Arabiya TV, December 6, 2007.
 Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), December 5, 2007.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 5, 2007.
 Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), December 7, 2007.
 Al-Watan (Qatar), January 2, 2008.
 Akhbar Al-Khaleej (Bahrain), January 1, 2008.
 Fars (Iran), December 25, 2007.
 Kayhan (Iran), December 27, 2007.
 IRNA (Iran), December 31, 2007.
 IRNA (Iran), December 30, 2007.
 Kayhan (Iran), December 4, 2007.
 Sobh-e Sadeq (Iran), December 3, 2007.