Zionist military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari poses next to an Iranian ballistic missile which fell in the Zionist entity on the weekend, during a media tour at the Julis military base near the southern city of Kiryat Malachi on April 16, 2024. - AFP
Zionist military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari poses next to an Iranian ballistic missile which fell in the Zionist entity on the weekend, during a media tour at the Julis military base near the southern city of Kiryat Malachi on April 16, 2024. - AFP
‘Bad for business’: Gulf states scramble to avert wider war

DUBAI: Gulf states are grappling with the widening Middle East conflict as hostilities between Iran and the Zionist entity threaten their security and ambitious plans to reshape their economies. Leaders of the resource-rich Gulf monarchies engaged in a rapid round of diplomacy after last weekend’s Iranian drone and missile strikes on the Zionist entity raised the specter of a regional conflagration.

The desert countries lie across the Gulf from Iran, placing them on the doorstep of the latest crisis after months of tensions generated by the Zionist-Hamas war in Gaza. US military facilities are scattered around the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have both faced previous attacks on oil facilities by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

Meanwhile, the Starbucks Foundation and Alshaya Starbucks announced making a $3 million donation to World Central Kitchen to help support aid efforts in Gaza. “We are deeply saddened by the mass tragedy that is unfolding in Gaza, and our hearts are with all the people affected. We are committed to supporting our local communities and our partners and, inshallah, through these donations we will provide aid and relief to the people of Gaza,” Mohammed Alshaya, Executive Chairman, Alshaya Group, said.

“We are heartbroken for all the people impacted by the situation in Gaza, and the many people at risk of hunger,” said Duncan Moir, president of Starbucks Europe, Middle East and Africa. “Starbucks has always been about more than coffee,” the company said in a statement. “We’re committed to contributing positively and supporting others who do so.”

The Gulf countries share an “overall realization that conflict is bad for business and avoiding conflict comes now almost at any cost”, said King’s College London Middle East analyst Andreas Krieg. On Monday, Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani spoke to the Iranian president about the “need to reduce all forms of escalation and avoid the expansion of conflict in the region”, the official Qatar News Agency reported.

And on Sunday, UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed spoke to Qatar’s Amir and the kings of Jordan and Bahrain, state media said, while Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman talked with Iraq’s prime minister. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister spoke with his counterpart in Iran, and the Saudi and Kuwaiti defense ministers held separate discussions with their US counterpart.

Much is at stake for the wealthy, US-friendly Gulf states, whose expensive economic diversification plans, aimed at securing their futures post-fossil fuels, rely on a peaceful environment for business and tourism. Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia has been the biggest spender, pledging hundreds of billions for new cities and leisure attractions as part of Prince Mohammed’s flagship Vision 2030 economic transformation plan.

“Saudi’s top priority is that the crisis does not escalate,” Ali Shihabi, a Saudi analyst, told AFP, stressing the Gulf’s vulnerability. If there is an attack on Iran, Tehran might “be tempted to retaliate against the GCC given its close proximity and wealth of targets (that are) difficult to protect”. “Iran just learned how difficult it is to target (the Zionist entity) thousands of miles away but the GCC with its proximity and massive size compared to (the Zionist entity) is a different story,” he added.

In Saudi Arabia’s favor is its influence over the US — which is pushing it to follow the UAE and Bahrain by recognizing the Zionist entity — and renewed ties with Iran, which were resumed last year after a lengthy rupture. The deadliest ever war in Gaza had already dampened US efforts to broker a Saudi-Zionist normalisation. “Saudi will be definitely pushing for the US to pressure (the Zionist entity) for a ceasefire in Gaza and also to not respond to Iranian attacks,” said Umer Karim, researcher of Saudi foreign policy and politics at Britain’s University of Birmingham.

Meanwhile Oman, which is close to Iran, remains a vital conduit of mediation. And Qatar has leverage as the host of Al-Udeid, the region’s biggest US military base, said Krieg. “When it comes to anything to do with the Strait of Hormuz or Bab Al-Mandeb, (the Omanis) have deeper networks and are probably the more effective mediator,” he said, referring to strategic waterways in the Gulf and the Red Sea.

He said the US had not given Gulf mediators “enough credit for how important that relationship has been... in creating a response from Iran that is, I would say, still quite measured”. “Qatar is very particular because of Al-Udeid,” Krieg said, explaining that Doha would likely continue “telling the Americans, they can’t use their airspace, can’t use their bases to launch attacks against Iran”. “That will make it very, very difficult for the United States to actually assist (the Zionist entity) in a potential offensive strike inside Iran,” he added.

Washington has reaffirmed “ironclad” support for the Zionist entity, but a US official said it would not join any potential Zionist counterattack against Iran. According to Karim, any further deterioration would leave no good choices for the Gulf. “Definitely the sooner this conflict ends the better it is for all Gulf States,” he said.

“The conflict is increasingly creating a new regional balance of power... with (the Zionist entity) backed by the United States on one side and Iran and its proxies on the other side and Gulf states struggling for status and political impact. An escalation thus puts them in a very difficult position as they don’t want to side with any of the two camps but will be affected regardless.” – Agencies

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