European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen chose the Manama Dialogue platform to reveal an acknowledgement that the Europeans took a long time to “understand a very simple fact that while we work to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, we must also focus on other forms of weapons proliferation, from drones to ballistic missiles.”
This “recognition”, which came from the top European official, and on a Gulf platform, surprised those present at the public opening session of the Manama Dialogue, including dozens of senior military officials in the region and the world.
In fact, this statement was only an evidence to the position that Western countries have reached in the recent period, as participants noted in this edition of the Bahraini capital dialogue an escalating US and European rhetoric against Tehran and its policies in the region and the world, in conjunction with the successive Western sanctions on Iranian figures and entities.
But what are the reasons behind this sudden change in the European position?
According to analyses by Western officials in closed sessions, on the sidelines of the Manama Dialogue, we can talk about the accumulation of a series of reasons:
First, the nuclear negotiations. There is a belief that Western countries agreed to present a “fair and good offer” to the Iranian delegation in Vienna last March. But Tehran has not yet responded, nor has it retracted the steps it had taken on the nuclear front. Rather, it stepped up nuclear enrichment of uranium, and externally, moved its proxies in more than one arena in the region and the world. It is estimated that the threshold for nuclear weapons has decreased to “weeks” after it was “months.”
Second, the International Energy Agency. UN reports showed continued work on uranium enrichment in three facilities. Tehran refused to cooperate with the UN institution or reply to its requests, which led to a decision by the Agency’s Board of Governors with the support of 35 countries. It appears that Tehran responded by initiating 60 percent enrichment at the Fordow facility using IR-6 centrifuges.
Third, protests and cracks. The steadfastness and expansion of protests in Iran after the murder of the young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, and the high degree of violence committed by the Iranian security services, highlighted “the fragility of the system.”
In remarks on the sidelines of the Manama Dialogue, Intelligence experts and diplomats said that they believe that the collapse of the regime was unlikely, but raised questions about the outcome of the protests, with regards to the successor of Ali Khamenei, the nuclear program or the structure of the regime.
Fourth, documents and agents. Western officials have monitored Iran’s manipulation of its proxies and militias in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and others. There has been talk of a Western interception of weapons sent to the Houthis in the Gulf and to Hezbollah in Syria, the bombing of Iraqi Kurdistan, and expansions in countries such as Albania.
Fifth, threats. Western countries, including Britain and Canada, monitored serious threats by Iranian agencies to opponents and journalists covering the Iranian file and the protests. This was met with diplomatic summons by London and Ottawa, and the adoption of security measures to protect sites and media and political figures in Britain and Canada.
Sixth, the Iranian drones in Ukraine. Perhaps the most important reason is Iran’s involvement, alongside Russia, in the Ukraine war. The Russian army’s use of Iranian “drones” to bomb areas in Ukraine has been confirmed. A number of Western officials spoke, in closed meetings, of evidence of the presence of Iranian military experts in Crimea, and indications of the imminent arrival of Iranian ballistic missiles to Ukraine. One of them asked: “How will the West feel when it wakes up to the news of the fall of an Iranian missile in Kyiv, a European capital?” While another asked: “What is the fate of betting on Russia’s support in Syria and others to curb Iran’s role?”
At this point, talks emerged about the Iranian-Russian thread, as British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said that the policies of Moscow and Tehran are “a threat to the region and the world.”
Seventh, the effect of energy. There is an additional reason for the “Western spinning” towards the Gulf, which is the renewed belief in the importance of gas, oil and sea lanes in that region of the world. In the face of Tehran’s behavior and the growing importance of the Gulf role, the statements of European and Western officials and their public visits came to recognize the new equation.
Eighth, neutrality. Participants also interpreted this new position as a Western desire to push Arab countries out of neutrality in the Ukraine war. Among the attendees, an Arab official whispered after Ursula von der Leyen’s statement: “Suddenly, they want us to support their positions... What about our issues?”
Another official pointed to Western attempts to “get us out of neutrality and support the Western position in Ukraine.”
It is clear that there is another Gulf - Arab position. Initially, caution was observed in statements and stances towards Iran during the Manama Dialogue, and some regional participants were happy about the late European revelations.
There was no Gulf coping with the Western rush and the European “urgency” for the partnership. While cautious positions were noted, a “diplomatic attack” came from the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Nayef Al-Hajraf.
In the opening speech that included the campaign against Iran, Ursula von der Leyen criticized the “slowness” of the Gulf Cooperation Council to sign a collective joint agreement with the European Union, and warned of the possibility of resorting to bilateral agreements with each Gulf country if long-decade negotiations did not result in an agreement between the two blocs.
This criticism was met with a similar response from Al-Hajraf, who requested to make an immediate speech. Negotiations took place and a quick bilateral meeting was held to resolve the problem, and it was believed that the page had been turned. But the next day, Al-Hajraf returned to the matter, and before giving his speech on another subject, he insisted on responding to Ursula von der Leyen’s criticism, saying: “We are ready when you are.”
In the public sessions of the Manama Dialogue and during its private bilateral meetings and talks, there were additional signs of the features of the new equation, which was expressed by one of the participants who said: “It is possible to talk about the centrality of the Gulf and the growing Western and Chinese interest in the region... Riyadh’s hosting of the Gulf Cooperation Council summit, in addition to the Arab summit that will be attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping next month, after a similar summit with US President Joe Biden, is further evidence of this centrality.”