DUBAI (Dispatches) -- An expanded soccer tournament, a direct flight, clandestine meetings and a pledge to release prisoners of war; diplomacy is breaking out as Persian Gulf Arab nations back away from a Donald Trump-inspired confrontation with Iran. And the signs are everywhere, according to American news provider Bloomberg.
Last week, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain played their first games of the 2019 Persian Gulf Cup in Qatar after a last-minute decision to take part -- an apparent breakthrough in a 30-month feud that saw them halt trade and flights over Qatar’s links with Iran.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia that has waged a war on Yemen since 2015 began releasing jailed Houthis, as efforts to end the conflict gather momentum. Oman is quietly hosting high-level meetings, according to people familiar with the matter, and even Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has hinted at direct channels with the UAE.
Spooked by the prospect of a catastrophic war with Iran, Persian Gulf monarchies are in the midst of a strategic rethink, Bloomberg said.
"The UAE, whose economic model relies in large part on its international links, quickly realized it had most to lose from a military escalation. It had removed most of its troops from Yemen by the end of a turbulent summer that saw oil tankers targeted and a U.S. drone downed in the Persian Gulf without significant American response,” it said.
"While the humanitarian catastrophe unleashed by the Yemen war trained an unwelcome spotlight on Saudi Arabia, it took a brazen strike on Saudi oil installations -- which knocked out half the country’s crude production -- to ram home the risks and prove that Trump was not about to ride to his allies’ rescue,” it added.
"The attacks shattered any illusion of this magical U.S. security umbrella,” said David Roberts, an assistant professor at King’s College London who studies the Gulf.
According to Bloomberg, there’s an increasing recognition among the Persian Gulf Arab states that no one stands to gain from a military escalation in the world’s top oil-exporting region.
In a Nov. 10 speech, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said he saw "a path to a deal with Iran that all parties might soon” be ready to embark on if Tehran demonstrated commitment.
In search of a breakthrough, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, a former cricketer elected with the backing of a powerful army that provides extensive support for the Saudi military, shuttled between Tehran and Riyadh in October. He met Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei and Rouhani, as well as Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, describing talks as "encouraging”.
Khan said he traveled at the request of Trump and Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said the diplomacy wasn’t prompted by the kingdom. But deepening unease in the Persian Gulf catalyzed the effort.
The UAE broke with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia by not naming Iran as the culprit behind attacks in May and June on oil tankers as they sailed toward the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s foremost oil shipping chokepoint.
It sent coast guard officials to Iran for the first time in six years and Rouhani hinted at other meetings with senior UAE officials. "We’re moving toward improved relations,” he said Oct. 14. According to Bloomberg, Saudi Arabia is catching up.
For Rouhani, the case for regional engagement is obvious. Several officials have confirmed that Kuwait has conveyed Rouhani’s proposal for collective security efforts in the region.
"Don’t you know that Iran is going to stay here and we will remain neighbors throughout history?” he has said, referring to Iran’s Arab neighbors. "Trump will only be around for a few years and will go back to whatever it was he was doing.”