As for Arab nationalism, it has had little or no effect on the political identity of these states. They know full well that they do not wish to confront a three-dimensional Iran: Shia, nationalist and a nation state. Not to mention the fact that there is an imbalance between them and Iran in terms of military – and maybe nuclear – power.

This doesn’t mean that the balance of military power is resolutely in Iran’s favour, however. Decades of military and economic sanctions have worn down Iran’s military establishment as well as its economy. But the short of it is that the potential exists to engage in long-term wars of attrition which would be detrimental to both sides.

For the above reasons, it is important to push Iran and the Arabs towards mutual relations between nation states, rather than between nation states and an imperial expansionist state. Whilst this might sound far-fetched and utopian, it is, in essence, politic, pragmatic and possible; indeed it offers the only way we can spare the region total and long-term destruction.

Abandon claims to dominion

At the heart of this scenario is mutual recognition of sovereignty and the establishment of economic relations, which would contribute to stability and development in the Gulf and in Iran. Under-development and economic collapse are bound to give rise to radical and extremist policies that are mutually destructive.

Essayist Khaled Hroub (photo: Birzeit University)
One of the Arab worldʹs most respected opinion leaders: essayist and media scientist Khaled Hroub was formerly director of the Cambridge Arab Media Project. He also works as a consultant for the Oxford Research Group's (ORG) Middle East programme

It is not in the interest of the Arabs to have a nation state of Iran that is internally overstretched, economically destroyed and prone to extremist and expansionist tendencies. Equally, it is not in Iran’s interest to live beside Arab neighbours whose lives have been devastated in Iraq, the Gulf and Yemen, because this also means breeding religious and sectarian extremism ad infinitum. It is in the interest of both sides to move towards the logic of the nation state in order to rein in extremism and to pursue joint interests with their neighbours.

The current animosity between Iran and the Arabian Gulf is not on a par with the German-French or the German-British enmity in the wake of the First or Second World Wars, which resulted in more than a hundred million dead. Notwithstanding this – and only a few years after the end of the two wars – these very states engaged in regional economic and security arrangements based on shared interests, on making major concessions and on abandoning claims to and aspirations of influence and dominion.

The result was the establishment of the largest and most effective economic bloc in the world, namely the European Union. This European lesson offers us an enticing model worthy of deep consideration in order to transform enmity into co-operation. The Arab states and Iran can take one of two paths: they can keep going towards mutual destruction or embark upon co-operation.

Khaled Hroub

©  2018

Translated from the Arabic by Chris Somes-Charlton

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