Why Gulf states are wary of an Iran at peace. They worry Iran's export of revolution will continue
Around the Gulf, eyes are peeled for signs of whether Iran, having backed down in the war, will also scale back attempts to export its revolutionary Islamic ideology. Government officials, diplomats, and academic experts express a range of opinions.
Some say war-battered Iran no longer has the capacity to export its revolution to neighboring Muslim states.
Others maintain that an end to nearly eight years of hostilities will free up resources and energies in Iran and boost the spread of what Iran's leaders call ``true'' or ``pure'' Islam.
The leader of Iran's revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, gives no hint that Iran will tone down appeals for worldwide Islamic revolution.
``We were and still are determined to set free the concentrated energy of the Islamic world,'' he said this week, in his first major address in many months. ``We call for the expansion of the influence of Islam. We are intent on eradicating the roots of corruption: Zionism, capitalism, and communism ... and to propagating the Islamic rule of the holy prophet of Islam.''
Some see Iran simply shifting its tactics, but not its goals. One knowledgeable Arab analyst says Iran remains determined to export its revolution, but is placing less emphasis on bombs and violence. Rather, it is encouraging Islamic revolution by trying to provide an example of an attractive alternative to existing forms of government in the Islamic world.
The analyst, who watches developments in the region closely and asks not to be named, says Iran's new strategy is likely to attract the support of a large number of moderate Shiite Muslims in the Gulf who in the past have opposed Iran's use of violence as a means of attempting to spark mass uprisings.
``Every country in the region is worried because they know that it is not going to be the end of the Iranian threat, it will only be the end of the direct threat,'' he says.
The source suggests that, in the long run, the end of the Iran-Iraq war and adoption of a less belligerent posture by Iran will facilitate growing contacts between the Gulf's Shiite Muslim community and the Islamic Republic, possibly including pilgrimages to sacred Shiite shrines in Iran.
Such contacts would expose the Gulf Shiites more than ever to the ideas of Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers.
``The best way to export the revolution is to prove to the people that the revolution is the best way for them to help themselves. Prove to the people that yours is the best system and then the people, I'm sure, will copy it sooner or later,'' the analyst says.
``Unless [Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia] completely block all contact with Iran,'' he stresses, ``it is even going to be worse for internal [security] than it is now.''
Iran has worked, since its Islamic Revolution in 1979, to spark the Shiite populations living in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere to rise up and establish Islamic governments similar to Iran's.
The efforts have included giving aid to underground Islamic groups, many of which advocate violent measures including bombings and assassination plots to overthrow the existing Gulf governments run by pro-Western Arab royal families belonging to the majority Sunni sect of Islam.
According to the Arab source: ``They are still going to support the underground organizations, but they are not going to fire rockets at Kuwait or plant bombs in Kuwait or Bahrain.''
``I think they will probably continue with their plan to export the revolution,'' says Philip Robins of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. ``But I think there is every indication that Iran doesn't have the ability to destabilize the smaller Gulf states.''
In the case of Oman and the United Arab Emirates, Mr. Philips adds, Iran will work hard to maintain the current level of good relations. But frictions will remain between Iran and the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain.
``They have had eight years of living with this [revolution], and they haven't enjoyed those eight years,'' says a Western diplomat posted in the Gulf.
``It is going to take [the Gulf states] a while before they believe the nature of the beast has changed.''
Some analysts say that in keeping with Iran's recent efforts to reopen diplomatic ties with the West - in effect, launching a diplomatic offensive against Iraq and seeking to build international credibility - the leaders in Tehran will avoid any association with violent groups or plots in the Gulf or elsewhere overseas.
One Western diplomat welcomed a possible change in Iran's posture regarding the war with Iraq and the export of the revolution.
But he stressed, ``We will watch what they do, not what they say.''
``The Iranians must prove that they have abandoned their support for terrorism,'' he adds.
``They have to show us by deeds, not by words alone, that they won't support groups like [the militant Lebanese Shiite group] Hizbullah which takes hostages and kills people.''