In a new commentary, UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba highlights the importance of checking Iran’s regional aggression and revitalizing security cooperation between the US and the Arab Gulf states. Citing Iran’s ballistic missile tests and the repeated interdictions of illicit Iranian arms shipments to the Houthis in Yemen, Ambassador Al Otaiba notes that Iran is passing up the opportunity for responsible engagement in world affairs, and suggests Arab Gulf states and the US work more closely to defend their shared interests to make the region more secure.
Click here to read Ambassador Al Otaiba’s op-ed, which was published March 2, 2017 in The Wall Street Journal and see the full text of the op-ed below:
By Yousef Al Otaiba
2 March 2017
Wall Street Journal
When the Iranian nuclear deal took effect more than a year ago, there were high hopes that it would set Tehran on a new course of responsible engagement in world affairs. Instead, the country has chosen increased conflict and aggression. The Trump administration’s early move to impose new sanctions on Iran was a measured reaction—long overdue and welcomed by all of America’s friends in the region.
Iran’s hostile behavior is only growing worse. There have been multiple interceptions of illicit Iranian weapons destined for Houthi rebels in Yemen. On New Year’s Day, Iranian-backed militants in Bahrain organized a prison break of convicted terrorists. Later in January, Tehran tested a nuclear-capable ballistic missile, at least its 12th violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution barring such tests. Meanwhile, Iran has steadily escalated its support for the Houthis, prolonging a war that has had horrible humanitarian consequences and distracted from the fight against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist franchises.
As Defense Secretary James Mattis said at his confirmation hearings, Iran is “the biggest destabilizing force in the Middle East.” Last month he called the regime “the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world.” Last year Mr. Mattis said Iran had used the rise of Islamic State as an excuse “to continue its mischief.”
Tehran promises more of the same. Gen. Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, praised Iran’s “great missile power” last month, saying: “We are adding to our numbers of missiles, warships, and rocket launchers every day.”
What exactly does Iran want? Its constitution calls for exporting its Islamic-inspired revolution to the rest of the world. Its leaders talk of “Greater Persia”—a sphere of influence encompassing much of the Middle East. And “Death to America” remains a favorite rallying cry in Tehran.
Checking Iranian aggression will not be easy, but the stability of the region depends upon it. Holding the country to its commitments would be an important first step. Rebuilding America’s ties to its traditional partners in the region would be another. So too would be directly confronting Iranian interference in places like Yemen.
Along with the U.S., the United Arab Emirates believes that the nuclear deal should be strictly enforced. The same is true for U.N. resolutions barring Iranian arms transfers and ballistic-missile tests. Violations ought to be exposed immediately and countered with additional economic sanctions.
Revitalizing security cooperation between the U.S. and the Arab Gulf states would have an immediate effect in Yemen. Increased American support for the Arab coalition would help combat the Houthis, who overthrew the legitimate government. It would help counter the thousands of Iranian-supplied missiles and rockets launched by the Houthis into Saudi Arabia. It would also help protect shipping in the Red Sea, a vital international waterway leading to the Suez Canal.
The effort in Yemen demonstrates that the U.A.E. and other Arab Gulf states are taking the lead to protect not only our own interests, but also American ones. Support from the U.S. is as vital as ever, but that does not necessarily mean we are seeking boots on the ground. It is more about determined leaders in Washington providing clear intentions and consistent policies.
When the U.S. is disengaged, conflicts like those in Syria, Libya and Yemen are prolonged and intensified. Aggressors like Iran, Islamic State and al Qaeda become more powerful and dangerous.
Further violence can be avoided. Iran could suspend its missile tests and its support for violent proxies like Hezbollah, Hamas and Al Hashd al Shaabi, Shiite militias in Iraq. It could end its sectarianism and its destabilizing actions in the Arab World. Tehran’s leaders must ask themselves: Do we want to be part of the solution or remain the region’s biggest problem?
The U.A.E. and the other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council believe that engagement can achieve a long-term solution. In January the council proposed a direct strategic dialogue with Iran, resting on three principles: noninterference in other countries’ domestic affairs, a halt to exporting the revolution, and a commitment to reducing Sunni-Shiite sectarianism.
We will persist in trying to convince Iranian leaders that peaceful coexistence is possible. The upside would be immense—greater trade and economic opportunities, expanded cultural exchanges, and an Iran that can assume its rightful place in the global community. The nuclear deal could have been a first step toward this future.
But Iran clearly has different ideas. With Washington now alert to the growing threat, we are making plans too. Among them is a renewed security partnership with the U.S., which would provide the basis for a collective and firm response to the Islamic Republic’s provocations. It is an urgent and necessary effort to defend our shared interests and make us all safer and more secure.
\Mr. Otaiba is the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the U.S.