In the
Middle East (ME) region, the state power is reliant on external and structural
sources of support (superpower military protection and often the export market
for petrochemicals). This assertion is echoed in the international relations
scholarship on the Gulf by scholars such as Gregory Gause, who sees the role of
the US, superpower dynamic as central to the prolonged existence of the
resource-rich kingdoms1. Middle East has been meddlesome
in political crisis from decades. The historic Palestinians-Israel problem, the
power tussle between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the entirely destructive policy of
Turkey toward the threat posed by the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or
ISIL) United States’s invasion of Iraq (2003) in the name of weapons of mass
destruction (WMDs)—although not proven on ground—led to a new wave of wars and
fighting in the Middle East. The sectarian war, between Shiite-Sunni, and the swift
rise of radical and terrorist groups in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and to a lesser
extent in Yemen, political unsteadiness in Lebanon are some other developments,
which have contributed to the historically disastrous suffering of the people
of the region. The ME is surrounded in a cycle of wars and is suffering from
lack of shared security.

2.2        GCC Fissures

Ehteshami and Hinnebusch, Nonneman, Baabood and Youngs, amongst others,
explores the specific challenges facing foreign policy articulation in the ME
and GCC2. The current impasse
between Qatar and GCC members (mainly Saudi Arabia and UAE), which latter have
blockade sea routs and also air traffic. GCC members blame Qatar for
interfering in their internal matters, closing sea and land routes, canceling
flights, moving back diplomats, expelling Qatari citizens, labelling 59 Qatari
citizens as terrorist supporters, prohibiting the screening of the al-Jazeera
TV network, and even (in the case of the UAE) forbidding the expression of
sympathy toward Qatar. The disagreement is significantly more serious, than
previous clashes, including in 2014, when Saudi Arabia and other countries
recalled their envoys from Doha. A second source of tension is Doha’s cooperative
stance toward Iran, which is seen by most of the other Sunni-majority countries
in the Gulf as a upward threat to their security or even survival.

Saudi-Iran Sectarian Cold War

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The animosity
between Iran and Saudi Arabia is a persistent feature of ME geopolitics. Both the
countries hold regional standing; Iran has a large population and a long
history of nationhood, while Saudi Arabia beside custodian of Islam’s holiest
sites, holds significant oil reserves. The cold war between these two countries
have kept an overall security environment for region and with its potential of
getting spill over in the entire region. Both states do not falter to use
proxies against each other to weaken influence of opponent, even blaming each
other of support of terrorist groups in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Before the 1979 Iranian revolution, relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia continued without
major incident. After the Iranian uprising in 1979, religion would be at
the vanguard of Iran’s state identity. Ayatollah Khomeini claimed broad Islamic
support for the revolution, and was quick to criticize the corruption of the
Wahhabi Saudi monarchy. Such incidents produced atmosphere of fear of uprising
similar to Iranian revolution in Saudi Arabia. Also exercising domination over
the gulf region and as potential leading role of Muslim world fortified on
going cold war between Iran and Saudi.

GCC role in Saudi-Iran Cold War

Kerr first floated the notion of an “Arab cold war” in his formative
study of ideology in international politics, where he scanned the inter-Arab
rivalry in the stormy 1950s and 1960s3. His
analysis of historical inter-Arab relations is helpful in understanding
conversion to ‘Saudi-Iran cold war’ or ‘Arab and non-Arab cold war’ current
situation. Two dimensions of the new cold war stand out; the rising importance
of Islamist non-state actors and the increased significance of the non-Arab
state of Iran. An obvious objection to the new Arab cold war framing is that
Iran, a non-Arab state, is Hizballah’s primary patron. At first glimpse, this
non-Arab dimension highlights the variance between the 1950s and 1960s and
today, as highlighted by, Morten Valbjørn and André Bank4, when
key players in the inter-Arab rivalry are neither Arab nor post-Arab. But
Iran’s attempts to gain power in the Arab world, may still fit into a new Arab
cold war. In earlier times, Tehran followed an “Arab option,” where its foreign
policy assumed a populist, pro-Arab and (most importantly) pro-Palestinian
orientation5.  Saudi Arabia as a major player in GCC exercises
significant influence in defining GCC’s relations with Iran. As an arch rival
to counter Iranian sway in Persian Gulf Saudi uses GCC platform. The rivalry
between Iran and the GCC is bitter and has aggravated the various conflicts
raging across the ME. Relations between the two Persian Gulf power centers took
a turn for the worse after the Arab Spring, as power vacuums emerged throughout
the region, and further worsened when the nuclear dialogues between Iran and
the six world powers (known as P5+1 deal) successfully concluded in 2015.

GCC states’ relation with Iran has also two-sided factors as well.
In recent months, there have been signs of progress toward reconciliation
between Iran and the GCC. In January Kuwaiti foreign minister, Sabah Khalid Al Sabah,
completed a landmark visit to Tehran, where, he reportedly delivered a message
to Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani in relation to the “basis of negotiation”
between Iran and the GCC states. Rouhani responded by visiting Kuwait and Oman
in February and sending a letter to Kuwaiti Emir Sabah al-Ahmad Al Sabah in
March 20176.

GCC and World Politics

countries reside on one of most big reserves of petrochemicals and as a leading
oil exporter GCC occupies a prominent position in world politics. Strong
historical, political and wealthy natural resources signifies its role in
international affairs. World super powers have historically shown interest in
GCC states. Perhaps one of the most remarkable features of the international
relations (IR) of the Persian Gulf is its security.7 For a number of reasons, extending
from the nature of governmental rule within each of the countries of the region
to the ways in which their international connections have evolved historically,
much of the international-politics of the Persian Gulf, has focused on security
issues in one way or the other. The region has confronted, and remains to face,
numerous security challenges, and there have been a number of endeavors, thus
far not all that successful, to oven joint security arrangements. Not
surprisingly, much of the efforts and associations of actors in the Persian
Gulf, whether from within or outside of the region (US and European Union), has
happened either directly or at least with an eye toward security issues.
Threats, or at least perceptions of threats, have prowled in the shallow waters
and the sandy shorelines of the Persian Gulf as far back as the early days of
the British Empire, and those engaged in the region’s international politics
have been unable to escape the various concerns to which they have given intensification.
This is not to suggest, of course, that all of the Persian Gulf’s international
politics can be reduced to the security issues, but rather to say that security
issues have never been far from consideration insofar, as regional politics are

ME, Iran-Saudi Crises and Pakistan’s Role

close ally to GCC (Saudi particularly) and sharing 909 km border with Iran,
Pakistan bears consequences of any such tension between these two powers, in
form of sectarian violence throughout country. The Middle East has been in a unrest
ever since the US-led forces invaded Iraq in March 2003. Things worsened
further in the wake of the “Arab Spring.” Both of these developments were hoped
to guide in an era of democratic openness in the ME8. The fallout of the crisis
in the ME has created several policy challenge for Pakistan Vis-à-Vis its
relations with the ME; growing threat of sectarianism, violent extremism and
terror, domestic divergence and threats to its economic development. Tackling
these challenges demands the country revisits it’s foreign as well as domestic

Arabia and Iran engaged in the serious situation was witnessed in Yemen
conflict, where opposing groups support was no more concealed by both states.
In Yemen a large chunk of the country, including the capital, has been overrun
by Houthis, a group belonging to Zaidi sect of Shia Muslims and believed to
have been supported by Iran. Yemen is not the sole bone of dispute of this Cold
War, the two sides supporting opposing political as well as armed groups in
Lebanon, Bahrain, Iraq and Syria as well, which generates an overall security
oriented environment in ME and particularly for GCC10. Alarmed at developing
Iranian influence in an Arab states, GCC (minus Oman) led by Saudi Arabia,
launched a military operation ‘Decisive Storm’ on March 26, 2015, against the
Houthis in Yemen.  In addition to five
GCC states the operation was joined by some other neighboring states i.e.
Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Morocco. GCC-UAE and Saudi Arabia in particular—requested
Pakistan to join this coalition by contributing in military domain. Pakistan’s
internal situation and its relations with Iran (next door neighbor) could have
cause serious blow back by agreeing to the request. Iran was extremely opposed to
Pakistan’s military involvement in the Yemen conflict, and had already conveyed
it to Pakistan. Pakistan with a major portion of population belonging to Shia
sect, can easily sprawled the already impulsive internal situation complex
sectarian viciousness in worst case a civil war within her borders. During the
visit to Pakistan in April 2015, Iran’s Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif, urged
Pakistan to discard Saudi wish for military help11.

involved in Yemen could have aggravated sectarian tensions within Pakistan, as
the Yemen conflict was being viewed also as a sectarian war, between Sunni
Arabs and Shia Iran. And, last but not least, such a decision might have
created further operational challenges for Pakistani military, which was
already too overextended with its counter- terrorism efforts against the
Pakistani Taliban and tensions with India.

1 F. Gregory Gause III, ‘The
International Politics of the Gulf’, in Fawcett, International Relations of the
Middle East, pp. 272–89.

2 See Anoushiravan Ehteshami and Raymond
Hinnebusch, ‘Foreign Policy in the Middle East: Complex Realism’, in Louise
Fawcett (ed.), International Relations of the Middle East, 3rd ed. (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 225–44.

3 Malcolm Kerr, The Arab Cold War,
1958–1964: A Study of Ideology in Politics (London: Oxford University Press,

, M., & Bank, A. (2007). Signs of a New Arab Cold War.


5 Trita Parsi, “Israel and the Origins of
Iran’s Arab Option: Dissection of a Strategy Misunderstood,” Middle East
Journal 60/3 (2006).

6 (Mousavian, 2017)

7 (Wright, et al., 2009)

8 (Mumtaz, 2016)

9 Ibid

10 (Vall, 2017)

11 (AlJazeera, 2015)


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