Michael Laubsch, member MENA Research Center
New Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in one of his first public speeches seemed to reach out for the Iranian Arab neighborhood, while at the same time time proving the potential power: He made clear that the arsenal of ballistic missiles and the militia operating in foreign countries and controlled by the Revolutionary Guard are non-negotiable. Still, the new-elected president sees “no obstacles” in improving relations with concurring neighbours such as Saudi Arabia.
Tehran’s offers are at least welcomed in some Arab Gulf States. Some observers speak of a “mood for appeasement” throughout the region, but still doubts arise about how far this can lead to a real stabilization. “De-escalation does not necessarily have to lead to détente”, an old truth in political science.
It is a disillusionment with the results of foreign policy, which was bursting with vigor a few years ago, producing a new pragmatism in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Both countries had joined into complicated conflicts – such as the war in Yemen. Experts say that they have paid a high price, economically, politically and also in terms of their reputation, without achieving any obvious and lasting victories.
Donald Trump, who had significantly promoted the escalation in the course of his policy of maximum pressure, but refused to take action at the same time.
The Mullahs in Tehran had a similar experience. Regional appeasement as a prerequisite for opening up new trade routes is one of the points that Iran want to achieve in its foreign policy strategy. Iran also wants to see the diplomatic rehabilitation of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and the Iranian role in Yemen to be recognized as well as the Iranian-sponsored Houthi rebels as a decisive political force together with undermining UAE and Saudi pressure against the nuclear deal, counteracting the trend in the Gulf to normalize relations with Israel.
Good relations with Israel are of great strategic value to the Gulf States – for economic cooperation or cooperation on technological and security issues. While Saudi Arabia is pursuing a discreet rapprochement policy, the Emirates have publicly pushed ahead and normalized their relations with Israel and Bahrain as part of the “Abraham Agreement”.
When the new Israeli Foreign Minister Jair Lapid made one of his first trips to Abu Dhabi, describing it as “historic”, another line was crossed. “We are here because we prefer peace over war,” Lapid said during the opening ceremony of the Israeli embassy. Responding, the UAE Minister for Culture expressed the country’s “enthusiasm” for the visit and thanked Lapid in Hebrew.
As far as Iran is concerned, despite all rhetoric appeasement promises, Tehran is still the pariah, even when an international agreement on nuclear capabilities in Iran can be sorted out in the Vienna talks.