US Missiles Send Clear Message to Many in the Gulf

Faryal Leghari
Filed on February 4, 2010

DUBAI The US decision to deploy a sea-borne missile defence system in the Gulf is a clear message to Iran that Washington could use military power to push Teheran into reconsidering its nuclear options, political and security analysts said on Tuesday.

They said there were messages for other regional stakeholders too in the US decision. It has been derided by Iran, which said that Washington was trying to whip up a “sense of Iran phobia” amongst its Middle East neighbours.

US officials said on Sunday that the land-and-sea-based missile systems in Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and Bahrain had been expanded to counter Iran’s growing missile threat. The deployment of a sea-borne system bolsters the existing land-based Patriot systems already deployed extensively in the region.

“The message is aimed at three parties in the region,” Dr Mustafa Alani, head of security and terrorism studies at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, told Khaleej Times. He added that the US decision had come after political, economic and nuclear inducements had failed.

He said the first message was for the Gulf States that they would be protected in case of a missile attack by Iran. “The second message is to Iran that we will disable your strategic advantage of missiles,” said Alani. “The third is to Israel that the US is seriously considering the military option against Iran, in case other measures fail to achieve the desired objective.”

He said that there was also a message for other powers like Russia and China that have dragged their feet over sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme. “If you are going to hinder diplomatic pressure and not support sanctions against Iran then you must understand the US position. You are forcing the US to act militarily.”

Riad Khawaji, head of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) said the message for Russia, China and other international players was clear in that there was the possibility of the US using force to bring Iran to the negotiating table.

“The deployment of missiles is a precautionary measure the US has decided upon, based on the supposition that Iran could retaliate by heightening security situation in the region, not only in the Gulf but also in Lebanon,” Khawaji said.

Regional analysts said the US decision would force Iran to look at other options. “In the next few weeks we will see Iran using Asian diplomacy, possibly using Russia and Turkey as a conduit to talk to the US, to wiggle its way out of the crippling gasoline sanctions that will hit it hard. It might seek to temporarily back off (from) its position at this point,” said Dr Abduallah Al Shayeji, chairman of Kuwait University’s political science department.

The implications for the Gulf, however, were far from comforting, Shayeji said, adding that the Gulf Cooperation Council needed a unified policy on Iran and Iraq.

“It is a wake-up call for us — a worst-case scenario. We are looking at the possibility of a war that may happen in a few months. What will happen if the US continues to push along with Israel? With the GCC states just sitting there, it is hardly going to make one feel safe.” Shayeji said he was surprised that GCC countries had nothing to say about the latest US move.

Alani was more pragmatic. Replying to a question if the latest deployment could lead to greater instability in the region, he said the situation was unlikely to get out of hand because the missile system was deployed in international waters and did not infringe or violate any state’s waters. Secondly, it did not translate into visible US military presence in a way that may be upsetting.

“Now the region has a huge anti-missile systems and it is bound to make the Iranians consider their options closely,” Alani said.

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