Iran and Arabia: A Gulf Apart
The relationship between Arabia and Persia can be summarized as one of stop-starting antagonism, the pair lurching between states of 'best of friends' and 'worst of neighbors'! A clash of cultures, religious sects and long-standing stigma of the other.
Arabs regard Persians with a long-standing suspicion and mistrust. They harbor the fear of possible Iranian hegemony in the Persian Gulf. This appalls them more so as they view their Persian neighbors as 'knowingly' devient. (or mis-led)
Persians see Arabs as inferior and regard them with an equally matched distaste.
Each likes to think of the same Gulf ocean as named respectively 'Arabian' and 'Persian' - which causes added tension and fuel to the conflict.
At various points in the last century, Arabia and Persia have peacefully coexisted or bitterly battled. In a mostly stable but invariably tense relationship, they have remained wary and guarded of one another. Saudi Arabia (SA or KSA) and Iran established diplomatic relations in 1928. However, this vacillating state of affairs worsened after 1979 when the new Islamic Republic of Iran became viewed as a threat to the region. 1979, it could be said precipitated, a deterioration in Iran-Arab relations.
Some view the clash of the Gulf Titans as that of Monarchy at conflict with Islamic power, after Iran's monarchy fell to a 'supreme' brand of religious zeal coming into political power. Ayatollah Khomeini assumed the religious lead as the Shia cleric taking people-inspired power.
What's more, Ayatollah Khumeini was open about his intention to export the revolution to other parts of the Muslim world. Regional monarchies beware!
The diplomatic and economic isolation of Iran intensified during the Iraq-Iran war in which the late Saddam Hussein took on Ayatollah Khomeini.
Iran and Arabia: the twain shall never meet?
Unknown to many, in the 1940s, there was an Arab enclave or pocket in Iran -- Arab tribes called this Arabistan (Ahwaz). They lived among the overwhelmingly Persian population, struggling to keep their Arabic language alive.
Light in the Dark
In 2001, Iran and Saudi Arabia signed a "major security accord to combat, drug trafficking and organized crime".
In 2008, the Saudi King Abdullah invited former Iranian President Ali Rafsanjani to visit Saudi Arabia for the purpose of attending an Islamic conference. Rafsanji pointed out that the opportunity was a way "Iran and Saudi Arabia can resolve differences in the Muslim world."
Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have enjoyed mutually beneficial bilateral relations marked by economic agreements for many years, despite their long-term territorial dispute (see slideshow for more).
Other Arab nations outside of the Gulf or mainland of acknowledged Arab Sunni turf, like the North African Arabs, generally enjoyed closer relations with Iran due to limited historical connection between one another. That said, Algeria grew upset with Iran in 1998 when Ahmed Ouyahia, the Algerian prime minister, accused Iran of supporting Islamist groups, which were allegedly behind "massacres" in his country.
Common multilateral forums, aside from the exclusive GCC kept Persia and Arabia bound together. For instance, both Iran and the UAE are members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and have cooperated through these channels and outside of them.
Iran after the 90s was seen as more docile
In the later 90s, Mohammad Khatami, came to power and tried to mend damaged ties between Iran and Arab neighbors and the US.
Iranian and Egyptian officials voice optimism that they will be able to fully restore diplomatic relations severed in 1979. (see slideshow)
The Egyptian historical fall-out with Iran after 1979 surrounding Egypt's shetering of the late Shah and its ramifications, is not without up-to-date tensions involving Palestine, Israel and the Egyptian role.
When Egypt obstructed Hamas operatives trying to smuggle weapons into Gaza through a recently-destroyed border fence in Rafah, Iran accused Egypt of caving in to Israeli pressure. In 2008, Iran and Hezbollah accused Egypt of colluding with Israel in the hope that the IDF could destroy Hamas. Rumor abounded that Egypt had been secretly co-operating with Tel Aviv in maintaining the closure of the Gaza Strip to pressure Hamas.
Egypt suggested Iran was the problem in 2009: The Egyptian foreign minister says Iran is trying to control the Middle East, effectively signaling a further deterioration between Cairo and Tehran.
"The Iranians are trying to spread and impose their specific ideology on the region, and they are using some of the Palestinians ... for Iranian purposes," he tells the media. He further attests that Egypt is being targeted by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.
2011 sees tentative Arabian-Persian ties further strained by Arabian countries supporting the international community's sanctions against Iran.
Relations were also hampered by the Islamic Republic’s proxy support of Shia protestors in Bahrain and the UAE’s denunciation of Iran’s activities, though the Gulf neighbors have worked to restore relations.
Iran has been severely critical of Bahrain hosting the US navy Fifth Fleet within the Persian Gulf.
Iran and Syria have had a strategic alliance, partially due to their common animosity towards Saddam Hussein and the Assad regime's Shiite faith (though the Arab national politics of Syria's ruling regime are at odds with Iran's Persian ideology.) And then there's Hezbollah. For a more involved picture, take a tour of the above slide-panel.