If ever there were a unifying cause in the Middle East, it would be the scramble between America, Israel, and Sunni states in the Persian Gulf to contain an intransigent Iran. The U.S. wants a balance of power in the region, not Iranian hegemony; Israel can’t afford the security risks of such a hegemony; and the Sunni Gulf states would be the most immediate victims of a more confident and muscular foreign policy from Tehran.So it comes as no suprise that the U.S. has been working, off camera, to pepper the Persian Gulf with fresh defensive equipment and build up a missile defense shield with its regional allies in the face of confrontation with Iran. The NYT reports:
[I]t will require partner nations in the gulf to put aside rivalries, share information and coordinate their individual arsenals of interceptor missiles to create a defensive shield encompassing all the regional allies.Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, among the first to raise the need for the missile shield three years ago, sought to spur the gulf allies on during a recent visit to Saudi Arabia.“We can do even more to defend the gulf through cooperation on ballistic missile defense,” she said during a session in March of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The threats to the Gulf Arabs are potent enough to warrant this kind of project: Bahrain is ruled by a minority Sunni family, which has a lot to fear from Iran’s meddling with its Shiite underclass. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and the UAE are all bracing themselves for the disastrous effects of Iran closing the Strait of Hormuz.This defense patchwork is a better approach toward handling the Iranian threat than, say, waiting around for the Saudis to form an opposing Sunni nuclear axis with Pakistan. So far it doesn’t look to be easy: the plans for missile defense in Europe have been settled by public diplomacy without a hitch, but the Persian Gulf is quite a different neighborhood. It will be a major test for the State Department (which has apparently been working on this for a long time already) to cajole each and every Gulf country to agree on cooperative and multilateral security measures. Supplying these kingdoms with Patriot missiles is one step, but if they want the new toys, they’ll have to play nice with each other.