Gulf countries fear major US, Iran flare-up

Recent reports suggest that the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council are planning to establish a joint military force.

us gulf 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
us gulf 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Gulf countries are eyeing with concern the recent hostile encounter between Iranian speedboats and American naval vessels, fearing it could deteriorate into a major confrontation. "This area, we may call it a boiling area, is just waiting for an ignition to destroy everything and for war to break out," said Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Mousa Qallab, the program manager of Gulf Defense Issues at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center. Iranian speedboats threatened three American warships in the Strait of Hormuz Sunday morning. The Iranians sent a radio message to the vessels to say they were approaching the ships and would blow up in a matter of minutes, according to the United States Department of Defense. They proceeded to put floating boxes in the path of the warships. The encounter ended with no further development, but the US is concerned about a military escalation in the area. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the incident was "quite troubling" and "a matter of real concern." The US vowed it would confront Iran if it tried to harm the US or its allies in the area. Teheran downplayed the incident, calling it an "ordinary occurrence." The US sells advanced military equipment to Gulf countries in order to boost their defense systems. Gulf countries do not want to see a confrontation between the US and Iran and prefer a peaceful solution to their differences, said Prof. Shafeeq Gharba, a political scientist at the American University of Kuwait. The region has an "American umbrella," Ghabra said, and this could help confront any threat in the future. "We don't feel secure despite the fact that we're not in a state of war and we haven't been in a long time. We live in peace, but sometimes there's a feeling that this investment in weaponry could add to peace or to the long-term prospects of peace," Ghabra said. Sunday's incident comes at a sensitive time for the US in the Gulf, with heightened tensions between the US and Iran over the latter's controversial nuclear program. The US is involved in efforts to pressure Iran into abandoning the program, and has implied it will not rule out military action against Iran. Iran's neighbors in the Gulf are also concerned about the prospect of a nuclear Iran. Muslim Sunni countries and do not want a powerful Shi'ite regime to dominate the region. Recent reports suggest that the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council are planning to establish a joint military force. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates see the joint force as a means to reinforce ties between the Gulf countries and perhaps create a stronger force to confront potential threats from Iran. The US has strong strategic alliances in the oil-rich Gulf, as these countries are supporting the US in the war against terror. Also, the US's Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain. Monday's incident comes two days before US President George W. Bush is expected to arrive in the region. Bush's visit will include several Gulf countries, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The Iranian issue will likely be a key issue in discussions between Bush and regional leaders.