ABU DHABI // Regional terrorism and the influence of Iran over countries such as Iraq, Syria and Lebanon have led to increased militarisation in the region, according to a new report.
The report, Iran and the Gulf Military Balance, says Tehran poses a growing missile threat to maritime traffic in the Arabian Gulf and the flow of petroleum exports.
This has led to “a de facto military alliance between the US, key Arab states and European power projection forces that is critical to deterring Iran and limiting the risk of war”, said Anthony Cordesman, author of the report. Dr Cordesman said the military balance in the Gulf was also “shaped by internal conflicts and divisions in Iraq, Syria and Yemen and the impact of ‘failed state wars’ on the relative strategic influence of Iran versus other Arab states and the US”.
The report was published by a Washington think tank, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
Gulf states have long criticised Iran for stirring turmoil in the region, leading them to press the US to take a stronger line against Tehran.
But even the most successful military and counter-terrorism efforts can only deter and contain the threats from Iran, extremist groups and regimes such as that of president Bashar Al Assad in Syria, the report said.
“Military forces are critical elements of security but true security requires moderate governments and politics that focus on the civil sector, produce successful development and wealth for all their people and address sectarian and ethnic differences,” Dr Cordesman said.
“Only a moderate regime in Iran, broadly based development and governance for all the people, and dealing with the causes of extremism can bring lasting security.”
In the short term, the US and Gulf countries will “have to continue to rely on deterrence, containment and counter-terrorism as key instruments of state”.
Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, said that in terms of defence spending the region was more militarised than at any other time in its history.
“Iran has always pushed the envelope further,” Mr Abdulla said. “It has been the initiator and the instigator of new rounds of an arms race in the region.”
Iran has not only militarised the Gulf, but also added a nuclear element to this arms race, which “once set in motion, the chances for conflict and clashes increase, making everybody less secure”.
Dr Albadr Al Shateri, professor of politics at the National Defence College, said the report indicated that both parties were locked in positions of distrust.
Gulf states were “wary of Iran’s political and military expansionism into Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen as a threat to Arab collective security”.
“The upshot of this distrust is more of an arms race that also feeds into the suspicion cycle,” Dr Al Shateri said.
Sabahat Khan, senior analyst at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, said the lifting of sanctions allowed Iran to launch a new defence spending programme, including the purchase of an S-300 air defence system from Russia.
“In Yemen, as in Iraq and Syria, Iran is able to play a significant role through building alliances with armed groups,” Mr Khan said.
The report, he said, “struggles to fully elaborate the regional security dilemma for the Arab Gulf over the next 18 months, instead focusing on longer time frames”.