Iran’s role in Gulf politics

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This article is featured in the ORIENT III 2021

This article analyses Iran’s posture in the Persian Gulf and focuses on its role in GCC political dynamics following the seismic shift brought about by the overthrow of the Baath order in Iraq in 2003. It further argues that the Arab uprisings of the 2010s played a defining role in Iran-GCC relations, deepening the fissure between Iran and Saudi Arabia as the dominant Gulf powers. The Iraq war and the Arab uprisings contributed considerably to the securitisation of inter-Gulf relations and the uprisings ultimately caused a rupture in the intra-GCC relations as well. Inter-regional tensions have been compounded by the Trump administration’s efforts to build formal diplomatic and political bridges between its Gulf allies and Israel, resulting in the signing of the Abraham Accords between UAE, Bahrain and Israel in 2020. This peace treaty will encourage Israel’s interactions with its Gulf partners, but is unlikely to further the cause of regional security and stability as not only has it created tensions within the GCC, but has also adversely affected the prospects for collective approaches to Gulf security. While the success of the al-Ulla summit in Saudi Arabia brings new opportunities, it is far from clear that by itself it can improve intra-GCC and inter-Gulf relations.

Anoushiravan Ehteshami is Professor of International Relations and Director of the al-Sabah Programme in the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University.

Benjamin Houghton is an al-Sabah Doctoral Fellow School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University, where he researches China’s role in the Persian Gulf.

Mirdef Alqashouti is a doctoral student in the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University, studying GCC-Iran relations.

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