Iran General NewsU.S.-Arab alliance aims to deter terrorism, Iran

U.S.-Arab alliance aims to deter terrorism, Iran

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Wall Street Journal: With Iraq’s future an open question and Iran’s regional clout likely to keep growing, the Bush administration is forging a long-term strategy to secure energy supplies that relies on drawing Arab governments into an alliance to coordinate defenses of oil-related infrastructure, combat terrorism and thwart Tehran’s nuclear and regional ambitions. The Wall Street Journal

Plan Seeks to Secure
Supplies of Energy;
Arms Role Criticized

By JAY SOLOMON
August 9, 2007; Page A6

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WASHINGTON — With Iraq’s future an open question and Iran’s regional clout likely to keep growing, the Bush administration is forging a long-term strategy to secure energy supplies that relies on drawing Arab governments into an alliance to coordinate defenses of oil-related infrastructure, combat terrorism and thwart Tehran’s nuclear and regional ambitions.

The Pentagon hopes the tens of billions of dollars of new weaponry for Middle East allies announced last week will underpin various regional defense initiatives. But the administration’s ultimate goal is to push a much more ambitious security agenda in concert with the six countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council, as well as Jordan and Egypt.

Next month, the U.S. and the “GCC Plus Two,” as the group is called, will hold their sixth meeting of the year. Pentagon and State Department officials have been crisscrossing the Middle East recently to promote what they call a Gulf Security Dialogue. One U.S. official involved in the diplomacy said it seeks to build a consensus on Iraq and fighting al Qaeda, as well as “deterring an increasingly hegemonic Iran.” In addition to Saudi Arabia, the GCC is made up of Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar. Yemen is in negotiations to join the organization.

The strategy is one of Washington’s principal initiatives in the Middle East, alongside its efforts to broker a regional conference this fall to tackle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Critics, however, argue the move has led Washington to sacrifice its calls for political change and liberalization in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt in pursuit of its desire to contain Iran.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week said long-term democracy promotion and the defense of the Arab states were compatible initiatives.

Many security strategists say Washington has misidentified the challenges. While the U.S. is backing large-scale armies, they say, Tehran has expanded its influence in places such as Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories through backing militias such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran has also improved its strategic position through the effective use of charities, social-services networks and public diplomacy.

“The U.S. is far superior to Iran in the sense” of military strength already, while “Iran trumps Washington in the use of soft power,” says Emile El-Hokayem, a Middle East analyst at Washington’s Henry L. Stimson Center. “You can pump more high-tech weaponry into these Arab regimes. But it’s not going to change the fundamental dynamic much.”

Analysts also warn the strategy risks perpetuating decades-long U.S. policy of propping up authoritarian regimes in the Middle East have squelched any political opposition. That has provided propaganda for Islamist and other extremists groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda, to attract recruits and fuel anti-Americanism in general.

Critics of the new policy argue, in contrast, that the U.S. should be promoting steps toward democratization and a region-wide dialogue with Iran, while also maintaining deterrent forces in the Middle East.

It also isn’t clear the GCC Plus Two — predominantly Sunni Muslim states — is willing to act as a broader counterweight against Shiite Muslim Iran, say Middle East analysts and diplomats. Many Arab leaders are reluctant to overtly challenge the Iranian regime, fearing it could fuel an arms race. And states within the GCC, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have historically been at odds on some key strategic issues.

Saudi Arabia, which has a sizable Shiite minority in its oil-rich east, oversaw the establishment of the GCC in 1981 in response to the Islamic revolution that swept Iran two years earlier. In its early years, the GCC focused on shoring up the internal security of its member states against the possible spread of Islamic fundamentalism and Shiite activism.

Washington began engaging the GCC in the early 1980s, seeking support for its policy of containing Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led government in Iraq. During the first Persian Gulf War, the administration of President George H.W. Bush worked with GCC countries to reverse the Iraqi army’s invasion of Kuwait.

Some U.S. initiatives, such as energy security, could become top GCC priorities. In response to threats posed by al Qaeda, and Iran’s strategic position along the Persian Gulf, the U.S. has been quietly pushing allied Gulf states to beef up oil-related defenses. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, in particular, have spent heavily to fortify oil-related infrastructure against terrorism. After a thwarted attack by gunmen against a major Saudi facility in 2006, U.S. officials started offering advice to exporters to help make their defenses more robust.

The State Department has started a project enlisting big oil producers to boost oil-infrastructure security in the Gulf and other oil-producing countries. Officials decline to name the cooperating countries. In the Gulf, where oil is often enmeshed in nationalist sentiments, officials on both sides are reluctant to discuss any energy-security cooperation.

The United Arab Emirates is looking at projects that would provide alternative routes for shipping Gulf oil, including building new pipelines and storage facilities. Those projects, however, are still on the drawing board.

In addition, the Treasury views the Gulf states as central to its attempts to cut off funds for Iran and its regional activities. U.S. officials, in particular, see the emirate of Dubai as a key financial center supporting Iran’s theocratic regime. Treasury officials have regularly visited Dubai in recent months to enlist the support of its bankers against Tehran.

U.S. diplomats say Washington’s cooperation with the GCC isn’t the start of a formal alliance, but rather an augmentation of military relationships the Pentagon has already established with many Gulf states. Still, at a conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, last week, Ms. Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates worked with Arab diplomats to endorse a policy statement that talked of a mutual-defense initiative among Gulf states.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government criticized the statement and the arms deals, claiming they were aimed at inciting broader tensions between Sunni and Shiites states in the Middle East.

–Chip Cummins in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this article.

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