Iran’s navy commander Shahram Irani recently claimed that Tehran plans to form a naval alliance with three Gulf states to “bring security” to the region. These states that will likely to join the alliance include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar, and Iraq.
The US may face a major setback to maintain its strategic interests in the Gulf, which include maintaining the free flow of energy and trade to world markets, countering its contemporaries, and supporting Israel’s use of it as a proxy alliance.
The US has pursued these interests through various means, such as maintaining a military presence and bases in the Gulf, leading or participating in multilateral coalitions and initiatives, providing security assistance and arms sales to its allies and partners, imposing sanctions and diplomatic pressure on its adversaries, and engaging in dialogue and negotiations when possible.
After the formation of this navy alliance, the US faces various challenges and may be hard to manipulate in the Gulf waters and the affairs of Middle Eastern states.
In this context, Iran’s claim to form a naval alliance with some Gulf states will pose new challenges for the US policy in the region. First, it challenges the US military presence and dominance in the Gulf waters, which has been a key pillar of US deterrence and containment of Iran. A naval alliance that includes Iran’s traditional rivals such as Saudi Arabia or Bahrain would undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the US-led Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), which is aimed at countering Iranian. It would also reduce the US leverage and influence over its allies and partners in the region, who might seek to balance or hedge their relations with Iran and the US.
Second, it complicates the US diplomatic efforts to revive the JCPOA and address Iran’s regional behavior. A naval alliance that includes Iran’s potential partners would increase Iran’s confidence and bargaining power in any negotiations with the US or other parties. It would also create new challenges for the US to coordinate and align its policies with its allies and partners in the region, who might have different views or interests regarding Iran’s nuclear program and regional role.
Third, it risks escalating the regional tensions and conflicts that the US seeks to de-escalate and resolve. A naval alliance that includes Iran’s adversaries such as Israel or the UAE would increase the chances of miscalculation and confrontation in the Gulf waters, where incidents and provocations have occurred frequently in recent years.