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    US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's King Salman at the Royal Court, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, May 7, 2015

    New Missile Race: US, Gulf States Conspiring Behind Iran's Back?

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    The Middle East is facing the risk of a new tit-for-tat missile race, similar to the US-Soviet rivalry during the Cold War, King's College doctoral candidate Aaron Stein believes.

    No sooner was the ink dry on the Iran nuclear deal, than President Barack Obama reiterated his policy of cooperation with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in order to integrate the region's disparate anti-missile defense systems, London-based King's College doctoral candidate Aaron Stein pointed out.

    "The system aims to defend against Iran's formidable arsenal of ballistic missiles and encourage the further integration of Gulf Arab military forces. This week, John Kerry met with various Arab officials, in order to reassure the region about the nuclear accord and the United States' commitment to Gulf Arabs' defense against the Iranian threat," Stein noted.

    The scholar underscored that during the Iran nuclear negotiations, Washington and Tehran remained at odds whether or not the sanctions on Iran's missile program would be lifted, adding that Tehran "has the region's largest stockpile of ballistic missiles."

    Meanwhile, Washington is bolstering its military cooperation with the GCC countries, which include Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, as well as with Israel in order to counter the "Iranian missile threat in the long-term."

    "GCC member states committed to develop a region-wide ballistic missile defense capability, including through the development of a ballistic missile early warning system. The United States will help conduct a study of GCC ballistic missile defense architecture and offered technical assistance in the development of a GCC-wide Ballistic Missile Early Warning System," a White House statement, released on May 14, 2015, read.

    However, "the more hawkish anti-Iranian states" are seeking to obtain long-range offensive missile capabilities, the scholar remarked. For instance, Riyadh has acquired ballistic missiles from China, while the UAE has rushed to purchase shorter-range systems capable of striking Iran. Furthermore, both countries have imported UK/French-made Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missiles for their Typhoon and Mirage fighter jets.

    "These missile sales were controversial in the United States, owing to their likely violation of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)," Stein pointed out.

    In addition, conventionally armed US cruise missiles and conventionally armed Chinese ballistic weapons have triggered international interest in acquiring conventional missiles for precision attacks.

    "This demand creates an obvious policy problem: to combat Iran's numerically superior ballistic missile force, the Gulf States have an incentive to acquire cruise missiles for precision strikes and missile defense to intercept missiles in flight. These growing Gulf Arab capabilities will, in turn, incentivize Iran's building of more missiles to overwhelm and defeat missile defenses, while also allowing Tehran to assert its need for Russia's S-300 anti-air missile system," the scholar highlighted.

    This tit-for-tat missile race is in fact no different from the US-Soviet rivalry during the Cold War, according to Stein.

    According to the scholar, this problem has no easy answers, however, US further military cooperation with its Gulf allies may reassure them that Washington will step in to defend them in the event of a military standoff with Iran.

    However, the US should consider coproduction of Category II missile systems with its Arab allies while avoiding proliferation of Category I systems, he noted.

    "In the coming years, the United States must walk a fine line: the strong presumption of denial for exports must remain in place, but the regional security dynamics requires greater cooperation on missile development," Stein stressed.

    However, it seems that Stein dismissed an opportunity that Washington's move aimed at bolstering defense collaboration with the GCC countries and Israel could aggravate tensions with Iran in the long run and alienate the Islamic Republic from the West.


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    Middle East, ballistic missile, cruise missiles, missile defense system, conspiracy, cooperation, Cold War, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Barack Obama, Gulf States, Israel, UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iran, United States
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