By Akhil Shah
September 24, 2015
Recent reports suggest that officials in the Sultanate of Oman and the Islamic Republic of Iran have given the go-ahead for the rumored 173-mile underwater gas pipeline connecting the two nations. As of March 2013, only an “understanding” had been reached. The new reports raise clear implications for the wider Gulf region, particularly Saudi Arabia.
For decades, and especially since the “Arab Spring” uprisings several years ago, Saudi Arabia has attempted to bind its smaller Gulf neighbors in a tight bloc to counter perceived Iranian aggression. On numerous occasions, Riyadh has provided military and economic support for its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. The Saudis have also pushed for the establishment of a Gulf union comprising the Council’s six member states. The kingdom’s objective has been to further bind the GCC together in a united political and economic front vis-à-vis Iran.
The Sultanate’s foreign partners—particularly the United States—have, until recently, strongly discouraged any relations with Iran. Yet Oman’s dealings with Iran have not created major issues in terms of Muscat’s alliances with Washington and Riyadh. Following the historic nuclear deal that the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) and Iran signed on July 14 in Vienna, however, Saudi Arabia finds itself increasingly threatened—politically, economically, and militarily. Not only does Iran sit on the world’s third largest oil reserves, it also presents a genuine challenge to Saudi Arabia’s traditional role as the anchor of geopolitical order in the Middle East.
Akhil Shah is a counterterrorism and foreign policy analyst based at the University of Chicago.