Iranian relations with GCC states have deteriorated markedly on a number of fronts. The tensions culminated when the Chief of Staff of the Iranian armed forces denounced what he called an "Arab dictatorial front" and claimed that the "Persian Gulf has belonged to Iran for ever", according to reports carried by newswires and Iranian media.
General Hassan Firouzabadi further said, “the Arab dictatorial regimes in the Persian Gulf are unable to contain the popular uprisings”.
He also denounced "plots" by the Gulf countries "carve out an identity for themselves by rejecting the identity of others," referring to Iran. "The Persian Gulf has always, is and shall always belong to Iran," the general said.
The General also condemned the regional Arab monarchies for refusing to call the waterway between Iran and its Arab neighbours by its "historical name."
Earlier in the week, Bahrain expelled an Iranian diplomat accused of aiding the Iranian spy-cell in Kuwait. Iranian lawmakers called the expulsion an “act of suicide”, whilst the government reserved its right to take “retaliatory measures” against Bahrain.
Separately, it was reported that some GCC states were growing uneasy about Iran’s strengthening relationship with Egypt. The Egyptian prime-minister visited a number of GCC states, but cancelled a stopover in the UAE, in what is seen as an indication of the growing tensions as a result of the Iranian relations.
April 17-30, 2011
Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk
The GCC regimes has traditionally had tense relations with Iran. The UAE accuses Iran of occupying three UAE islands, Kuwait has recently busted an Iranian spy-cell and Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have both accused Iran of instigating sectarian tensions in Bahrain. Iranian officials have sporadically given anti-GCC statements. However, what makes this different is that it comes at times of heightened political tensions between the GCC as whole and Iran, as well as between individual GCC countries and Iran.
This gives an indication that Iran is intent on intensifying its efforts against the GCC, particularly as its influence in the region changes balance, as a result of the Syrian protests and Egyptian revolution.
Iran will likely to proactively support Shiites in various GCC states, particularly Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia who have the largest number of local Shiites. Whilst a direct military confrontation is unlikely at this stage, the upping of the rhetoric points to an increased possibility of Iranian-backed civil unrest in various GCC states and a deterioration of diplomatic relationships.
Below is a figure showing the distribution of local Shiites in the GCC.