OpinionIran in the World PressAnalysis: Iran still a concern for GCC

Analysis: Iran still a concern for GCC

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UPI: Military cooperation between the countries of the Arabian Peninsula goes back more than a quarter century, but a potential $20 billion U.S. arms sale promises to bring them even greater coordination against a possible Iranian missile threat. United Press International

By DEREK SANDS
UPI Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Aug. 8 (UPI) — Military cooperation between the countries of the Arabian Peninsula goes back more than a quarter century, but a potential $20 billion U.S. arms sale promises to bring them even greater coordination against a possible Iranian missile threat.

In the past, the United States has sold billions of dollars in arms to Gulf Cooperation Council countries — Oman, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia — but the potential arms sale announced by the U.S. State Department on July 30 comes at a time when Iran is taking an increasingly hard line toward Washington and its allies.

The GCC countries have a long history of security and military cooperation. Formed in 1981 as a way to ease diplomatic and economic relations with headquarters in Riyadh, the GCC soon began military coordination when it created the Peninsula Shield force in 1982, partly as a reaction to the nearby Iran-Iraq war.

The Peninsula Shield force has never been very powerful, and troops from the small, multinational force billeted in Saudi Arabia were sent to their home countries in 2006, but the GCC still maintains close military ties.

While it has not been revealed what weapons the United States will sell to the GCC countries, analysts expect the list to include fighter jets and antimissile defense systems, possibly including the Lockheed Martin Patriot Advanced Capability PAC-3. Coordinating radar systems and increasing the compatibility of communications equipment are also concerns of the GCC countries.

Iran has more than demonstrated that, barring U.S. military intervention, it could pose a threat to other Persian Gulf countries. In 2006 Iran test-fired intermediate-range missiles, as well as high-speed surface-to-sea missiles, which could prove devastating to shipping in the Gulf. More recently, Moscow sold short-range missiles to Tehran, and a report from the Jerusalem Post in July asserted that Russia may sell Iran 250 long-range Sukhoi fighter jets.

But despite this hostile posturing, and with two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf, does Iran pose a realistic threat to the GCC countries? With the U.S. military in the Persian Gulf, some analysts see Iranian intimidation as a paper tiger.

“Iranian leaders may not want to hear this, but I think that they all realize that in terms of a conventional military power, Iran is virtually a nonentity. A week of U.S. air power would leave Iran, in my view, naked and defenseless. Their entire naval capability would lie at the bottom of the Persian Gulf, its air force would be in bits and pieces, and its tank and armor forces would be melting, rusting hulks,” said Kenneth Katzman, an expert on Iran and a Middle East specialist with the Congressional Research Service.

Iran’s ability to interrupt shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow passage at the base of the Persian Gulf through which 20 percent of the world’s oil passes, is also exaggerated, according to Katzman.

“Iran’s own military analysts admit that at best Iran could close the strait for about one day,” Katzman said.

But this is just conventional weapons. The United States, along with much of Western Europe and the United Nations, has charged that Iran is attempting to covertly build a nuclear bomb, something that it is thought could be achieved in the next several years.

Once Iran has nuclear material, its alleged ties to terrorist groups also makes proliferation a serious concern for officials in Washington and the Gulf capitals.

Washington also believes the GCC countries perceive more than simply the threat of violence from Tehran, they also see the “specter of a large, of a strengthening, more aggressive Iran in the region itself, quite apart from the issue of nuclear weapons, in the way that Iran is trying to expand its regional, political, military and economic influence,” State Department Undersecretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told reporters after the arms sales were announced.

“I think in the region, it’s going to be understood that one of the reasons for these sales — one of them, but not all — not the totality, is to enable these countries to strengthen their defenses and therefore, to provide a deterrence against Iranian expansionism and Iranian aggression in the future,” Burns said.

“It is the region’s wish that we engage in this military assistance, because the Iranians have caused the concern in the first place,” Burns said.

But not everyone in the region agrees.

“American foreign policy has proved to be a disaster in the Middle East, with it providing more arms to the region it can only make matters worse,” an editorial in The Gulf News said last week.

The deal will likely be formalized in the next several weeks and then sent to Congress for approval in September, Burns said.

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