Gulf News reports that during that meeting, the six-member organization issued a collective statement condemning Iranian interference in the affairs of Arab states. It was not the first such statement from Saudi Arabia and its regional allies, some of which have actively fought against Iranian proxy forces in Yemen. Iran’s activities there and in Iraq and Syria have been a consistent source of anxiety among Sunni Arab states that see Iran as being on a quest for regional hegemony or the establishment of a “Persian Shiite Crescent” across much of the Middle East.
Concerns about this apparent foreign policy aim were expressed in an editorial that appeared in Al Arabiya on Sunday. As one example of that effort, the author highlighted strategies in Syria that appear to be aimed at securing permanent Iranian influence and control over at least a portion of the country. He also notes that Iran recently sought to take representatives of the Houthi rebels it backs in Yemen on a tour of the broader Middle East. Naturally, it is easy for Arab states to see this as an effort to give more of a unified, multinational character to Iran’s individual acts of intervention in the broader region.
Any such effort would be sure to utilize Shiite religious identity as a unifying force among Iranian proxy forces in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. And by many accounts this is already happening to some extent. Iran’s strategy in each of those areas, including in its fight against ISIS, depends upon Shiite militant groups, some of which have expressed explicit loyalty to the Iranian supreme leader.
The role of those militias was specifically mentioned in the GCC statement on Monday, noting that even once liberated from ISIS control, some areas of Syria and Iraq have been subject to comparable or arguably worse criminal abuses by the Shiite groups that take over.
Other issues mentions in the GCC statement include Iran’s occupation of three strategically-located islands that both it and the United Arab Emirates claim as part of their territory. Gulf Business provided more details about this dispute and the recent GCC response, noting that it is such a contentious issue that Iran even threatened in 2012 to cut all diplomatic ties with the emirates if they did not back down.
There is a chance that such a threat will lose its weight if tensions between Iran and the Arab states continue to escalate over separate issues. In January, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Iran after Iranian mobs attacked the Saudi embassy and consulate in retaliation for the execution of a Shiite dissident cleric. Several Saudi allies in the region followed suit by downgrading their own ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran. And although this situation has somewhat stabilized over the past few months, it has arguably set a new baseline for the future development or Iranian-Saudi relations.