I bring all this up because I’m in Abu Dhabi right now and it sure seems like those 2015 predictions will not be coming to pass in 2016. In fact, according to the National’s Justin Vela, things are just starting to heat up:
Saudi Arabia and its allies moved to further isolate Iran on Monday as anger grew over attacks on Riyadh’s diplomatic missions in the country.Flights between Saudi Arabia and Iran were suspended, the civil aviation authority said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.Meanwhile, the UAE recalled its ambassador to Iran on Monday after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Sudan all severed diplomatic ties with Tehran. . . .Simmering animosity developed into an open diplomatic crisis after the Saudi Arabian diplomatic missions were attacked and set on fire early on Sunday morning following the kingdom’s execution of several dozen prisoners, mostly Sunni militants linked to Al Qaeda, but including Nimr Al Nimr, a Shiite leader from the east of the country.
As my Washington Post colleagues Liz Sly and Brian Murphy report, Kuwait has joined in the fun and recalled its ambassador from Iran as well.
Let’s be clear: Everyone has behaved badly, but the Saudis precipitated the current crisis in executing Nimr. There is no way that Riyadh did not anticipate this kind of diplomatic flare-up.
So why did they do it? Bloomberg News’s Eli Lake blames the Iran deal — or, rather, the implications of the Iran deal for American support of Saudi interests:
At the root of the problem for Sunni Arab states is the nuclear deal reached last summer by Iran and Western nations. When the White House sold the pact to Congress and Middle Eastern allies, its message was clear: Nothing in the deal would prevent the U.S. from sanctioning Iran for non-nuclear issues. Yet that has not been the case.Last week, the Treasury Department balked at the last moment on sanctioning 11 entities and individuals it deemed responsible for helping the Iranian government develop its ballistic missile program in violation of United Nations sanctions. Treasury officials had told lawmakers the new sanctions would be announced Dec. 30, but then the announcement never came.
I would argue that it goes deeper than that — you have to go back to Obama’s public statements that the Gulf states’ internal difficulties are greater than the threat posed by Iran. Kevin Drum — who is far from sympathetic to the Saudi position — nonetheless acknowledges the very real reason for Saudi insecurity:
The U.S. failed to support Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak during the Arab Spring, which raised fears that the U.S. wouldn’t support Saudi leaders if Iran managed to instigate a popular revolt by Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority. Then came the much loathed nuclear deal with Iran, which threatened to change the Mideast balance of power in Iran’s favor. And of course, low oil prices are taking a toll on the kingdom too. Not to mention the fact that America doesn’t really need Saudi oil these days, which makes the longtime partnership between the two a little shaky. Plus the Saudis are fighting a proxy war against Iran in Yemen that’s not going well.
It is possible that no amount of Obama administration hand-holding and backstopping was going to placate the anxiety of the Sunni states in the wake of the Iran deal. Still, if you look at the past year, the administration seems to have devoted very little time to gardening in the Gulf region. Which guarantees continued bloodshed in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and . . . I’ve lost count of the sectarian conflicts at this point.
It is still likely that the Iran deal will continue to be implemented. But it also seems increasingly likely that the negative externalities of negotiating the deal are rendering it far less significant in advancing the oxymoron that is “Middle East stability.”