Analysis: Making up is mostly about Iran
By ARIEL BEN SOLOMON/ 11/18/2014/J.Post
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain agreed on Sunday to return their ambassadors to Qatar after withdrawing them in March, in what is likely an effort to form a united front against Shi’ite Iran and its proxies throughout the region.
In a sign of worry, the tribal trait of uniting against a threatening outside force seems to be at play, expressed as Sunni unity in the face of external Shi’ite opposition, as well as concern over Islamic State.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, with the exception of Qatar, have been trying to keep revolutionary Islamic extremist forces at bay, favoring the status quo. From their perspective, Iran is expanding its influence and power in the region.
Whether it is the move by the West to seek a nuclear deal with Iran and ally itself with the Shi’ite axis against Islamic State and al-Qaida, the advance of Iranian- backed Houthis in Yemen, or the advance of Shi’ite forces in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, Sunnis are alarmed.
In an article in the Saudi-backed Arab daily Asharq Alawsat, which was republished on the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya website, journalist Abdul Rahman al-Rashed noted that the UAE is the second Gulf state after Saudi Arabia to designate the Yemeni Houthi movement Ansar al-Allah a terrorist group.
“This step is significant on many levels, especially as it reorganizes relations in a region which has seen dangerous political changes,” Rashed said. “The group was blacklisted because it takes directives from Iran and because it is being employed to take over the Yemeni state amid a regional war.”
In his book Culture and Conflict in the Middle East, Philip Carl Salzman, a professor of anthropology at McGill University and an expert on Arab tribal culture, described how the ethos of Arab tribal culture functions and how it is still relevant today.
“The principle of affiliation used is ‘always side with closer kin against more-distant kin.’ This is expressed in the famous Arab saying, ‘I against my brothers; my brothers and I against our cousins; my brothers and cousins and I against the world,’” Salzman explained.
In this case, it is the Sunni Gulf’s leading families that are uniting against the more distant enemies that seek to topple the regional order.
David Andrew Weinberg, a specialist on Gulf affairs and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post that Sunday night’s Riyadh summit was “historic.”
“It represented the Sunni states of the Gulf coming together during a period of increased threats from the Islamic State as well as Shiite extremists allied with Iran,” he said.
However, Weinberg noted, “this basic tension within the Gulf Cooperation Council is not going anywhere.”
“Qatar and its TV station [Al Jazeera] are going to continue being mouthpieces for the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.
“Doha and its neighbors will continue to clash over which factions to support in conflicts like Libya and Syria,” said Weinberg, adding that at times it could include proxy wars between them.
“This is a good day for the GCC, but it isn’t the ‘new page’ that the summit participants hailed it as being,” he concluded.
Eran Segal, an associate researcher at the Ezri Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies at the University of Haifa, told the Post the reconciliation “was expected and needed before the annual summit,” but “that does not mean this is final.”
Segal does not see the warming of relations in the Sunni-Shi’ite context, but rather that it has more to do with Islamic State.
Reuters contributed to this report.