Abdel Bari Atwan
It appears that US foreign policy is increasingly designed to promote arms sales to the Gulf States by spreading fear and alarm about the region’s many dangers but mostly focusing – for the moment at least – on Iran, the latest paper tiger. Let us not forget that the Gulf states have treasure troves – sovereign funds – containing upwards of 3 trillion dollars.
The Gulf States must be kept in a state of high anxiety, whether worrying about the presence of US war ships and aircraft carriers in their waters or, more recently, that the US is making friends with Tehran.
We could understand that the United States would persuade the Gulf States to spend billions of dollars on modern aircraft and advanced missiles to defend themselves against Iranian nuclear ambitions if the US and other major powers have not signed a framework agreement with Iran which makes its nuclear industries subject to international scrutiny for the next ten years at least. Why should the Arabs be squandering their national wealth on an arms race with no real enemy in sight – at least not one who is a state actor requiring such sophisticated defence provision?
If these weapons were to be used to liberate the holy places in Palestine from Israeli occupation, that would be different. If Arab missiles were to be trained on Tel Aviv as a permanent warning not to humiliate and persecute the Palestinians for a second longer this would be an encouraging move and one that we would heartily endorse.
Instead we learn that President Obama is polishing his smile in advance of next week’s summit with Gulf leaders at Camp David where he will persuade them that they need to purchase a highly sophisticated (and highly expensive) missile shield to protect themselves from hypothetical Iranian missiles.
The US has also been pressing to extend a similar missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Ostensibly (and ludicrously) to defend Eastern Europe against Iranian missiles. Moscow objected on the more feasible grounds that it would weaken Russian military power by hampering its massive nuclear capability – concerns Obama dismissed as ‘entirely unfounded’. The point here is that the threat from Russia’s sophisticated weaponry is much more severe than anything Iran can come up with at the moment.
In addition, US defence systems in Eastern Europe – in Romania and Poland for example – are funded by the US via grants and investments.
If Iranian missiles pose such a threat to the security and stability of the Gulf, what is the use of the foreign Army bases dotted throughout the region – the US has massive installations in Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, and the French (who are also selling tons of military hardware to the Gulf) have bases in Al Dhafra in Abu Dhabi?
And what is the point of the Gulf countries purchasing trillions of dollars worth of sophisticate arms – including the Patriot missile system – and up to the minute fighter jets? If the missile defence system does its job and if the US and French army are already at hand to defend their hosts, why build up such expensive arsenals?
It is simply a form of blackmail to plunder the financial assets of the Arabs and recycle them into Western treasuries and banks. Assets that could be used to better the lives of the region’s citizens – the gilded ostentation of the region’s rulers and princes can obscure the terrible poverty that many endure in these countries. Last year a group of Saudi vloggers were imprisoned for making a documentary about poverty in their country.
One must also question the effectiveness of existing missile defence systems. The ‘shield’ in Poland and Romania did not prevent Russia invading and annexing the Crimea and encroaching on Eastern Ukraine.
The Gulf’s sovereign funds are meant to be a financial reserve for the next generation and a cushion against a time when the petro-dollars do not gush into its treasuries at the rate they have become accustomed to. And indeed, that time may well have already arrived, with the price of petrol falling due to oversupply – a situation that can only get worse when the embargoes on Iranian oil are lifted.
Western governments intent on selling arms to the Gulf scarcely bother to conceal their hypocrisy and guile. In a recent interview with Thomas Friedman, President Obama volunteered the opinion that ‘the biggest threats that the Gulf countries face may not be coming from Iran invading. It’s going to be from dissatisfaction inside their own countries’. He enlarged upon this theory describing the masses of unemployed Sunni youths who are frustrated and ‘nihilistic’ and, with no ‘legitimate political outlets for grievances’ turn, instead, to the Islamic State. Yet these very governments, whose state apparatus does not provide a political forum in which all can participate, are the ones the US and France (and the UK) are arming to the teeth to ensure their survival. And while the US scares the Gulf leaders to death about Iran, the path from Washington to Tehran and vice versa is strewn with flowers and sweet music.
Do they take the Arabs for fools? The answer, I am afraid, is quite simply yes!