After a turbulent week, with tensions between Iran and the US reaching new heights, it seems we are on the brink of a precipice. Tehran has wreaked havoc across the region – from Yemen and Iraq to Lebanon and Syria – after effectively being handed billions of dollars with the flawed 2015 nuclear deal and expanding its military presence in a number of Arab countries.
This week marked an escalation in tensions, with Iran suspending parts of the nuclear deal and Iran-backed Houthis striking an oil pipeline that traverses Saudi Arabia. While a multilateral investigation is underway to find the perpetrators of an act of sabotage on tankers off the coast of Fujairah, concerns are raised after repeated threats from Tehran to target the region's critical waterways, from the Bab El Mandeb to the Strait of Hormuz. The US, which has recognised the menace of the regime and says it has proof of "heightened threats", has reportedly drawn up plans to dispatch 120,000 troops to the region.
This is a precarious moment and as UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash said on Sunday: "In these times we need to emphasise caution and good judgment." His level-headedness is not just welcome but vitally important. While some seek to provoke, cool heads are needed. The region is still recovering from the scars of previous wars and neither leaders nor their people will want a new war in the region. While Iranian malevolence must be recognised and exposed, there is, as Dr Gargash says, a commitment to "de-escalation, peace and stability". Behind his statement is a UAE policy rooted in supporting stability.
The chief culprits of regional interference are not the long-suffering Iranian people but their leaders, who appear determined to destabilise the region. Before US President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal last year, Iran used the proceeds to fund its proxies and continue its ballistic missile programme. Although some European powers remain committed to the nuclear deal, in truth it is defunct. Indeed, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has now threatened to withdraw from it amid a stringent US sanctions regime, which is crippling the Iranian economy. The Iranian regime is retaliating, but wiser counsel must prevail.
The UAE is striking a delicate balance between holding Iran to account for its regional adventurism and avoiding a military confrontation that will serve no one’s interests. Dr Gargash’s emollient words and calls for an “adult mentality” are greatly encouraging, particularly given the torrent of misinformation exacerbating the current crisis. Recent fake news reports, from the exodus of oil companies from Iraq to rocket attacks on US bases in the country, add to a heightened sense of uncertainty. At this tense moment, all sides must exercise restraint and choose their words wisely, avoiding "accidental" conflicts that could easily get out of control.