For some years now, it has been perceived by many that the only threat to the Gulf states, the GCC, came from Iran. Iran is a large strong country that is quite militarized and it has been expanding its sphere of influence well beyond the Gulf and the Shatt al-Arab in recent years. It also has an ancient history of domination of the region up to the Mediterranean Sea and into Egypt. Political changes in Iraq after the fall of the Ba’ath regime amplified the notion of a modern Iranian threat. The defeat of the Israeli invasions of Lebanon by Hezbollah in 2000 and 2006 also amplified this Iranian threat around the Gulf, given that Hezbollah depends on Iranian money and weapons.
The Saudi government has focused on the Iranian threat since at least 2005. By that time the Saudis had acquired and built the largest media empire anywhere in Europe and the Middle East: newspapers, satellite television channels, magazines, and general entertainment outlets, Only Aljazeera stood as the competition to Saudi domination of Arab media. Alarabiya, Asharq Alawsat, al-Hayat, ART, LBC, MBC, Rotana, etc, etc: these are all Saudi owned, either by princes or their relatives, and hence they are all official or semi-official media.
In the past few years the vast Saudi media started to amplify the “Iranian threat”. So far so good: that is fair enough among governments and nations. It also started to do some serious sectarian “Shi’a-baiting”, slowly at first but gathering speed after 2006. Soon they were all but accusing the local native Shi’as of their Eastern Province of being a fifth column (in their own native territory that preceded the arrival of the Saudi invaders from Najd). They were joined in that by allies from among the Arab despots such as Mubarak and King Abdul of Jordan. Mubarak’s state security started to uncover “Shi’a cells” dedicated to converting Egyptians. King Abdul of Jordan reportedly established a special branch of his security services dedicated to hunting down Shi’as bent on spreading their “faith”. I suspect all this was to keep the al-Saud and their Wahhabi clerics happy.
Not that the Iranians could not have been a threat. A huge militarized country like Iran can always pose a threat to its smaller “neighbors” under certain circumstances. If one chooses to disregard the huge American navy and other Western forces controlling the Gulf.
Then came the Arab revolutions which spread eastward and into Bahrain, an island that practices its own version of Apartheid. Before Bahrain, the al-Saud and their fundamentalist Salafi agents have been for some years trying to disrupt and sabotage the political process in another member country of the GCC. There is no political process in Saudi Arabia. The Bahrain uprising and the Saudi incursion divided the Gulf region deeper along sectarian lines, and much of the blame for that goes to the Saudi and official Bahraini media and their agents in another Gulf state. The goal has been to scare people and throw them into the lap of the Saudis: an old game often played by nations. And to kill the Arab Spring on the shores of the Gulf, in the bloodied streets of Manama and the villages of Bahrain.
Now a combination of seeing the tanks rolling easily into Bahrain and calls by Saudi Salafi surrogates for a Gulf “confederation” under Saudi control is giving some Gulf people second thoughts. Some people, hopefully enough people. The tanks rolled into Bahrain, and I don’t expect them to leave any time soon, if ever. These two factors have also reminded some people of just how the Arabian Peninsula came to be named after a family, Saudi Arabia. Old Ibn Saud started by re-entering Najd, in central Arabia, with money from a smaller Gulf state in the north, took Riyadh, then continued to conquer Hijaz and al-Hasa and Aseer, etc, etc. They even tried at one point to conquer the country that provided them with seed money to start with, using the Ikhan “militia”.
These recent events and the not too distant history have awakened some Gulf people to one important fact: it is much easier and faster for a land neighbor to send in the tanks than for a force to cross the Gulf. It has also made others aware of another likely fact: if there is a Gulf fifth column with divided loyalties, it is most likely not the Shi’as looking toward Iran, but the Salafis and their “allies” looking back toward Saudi Arabia. Maybe the al-Saud have overplayed their hand again.