Since May, Iran has pursued a confrontational approach in the Persian Gulf. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) naval forces allegedly launched six attacks against oil tankers in May and June and have seized three vessels since July.
The seizures and alleged attacks are likely intended to apply pressure on US allies who rely on the Strait of Hormuz for trade, especially oil exports.
These developments alone are not enough alone to confirm warming relations, but they do show that the UAE is willing to reverse previous diplomatic positions to secure its own interests.
The escalation in Gulf tensions has placed significant pressure on the UAE. The Emirati government has been forced to reconsider whether its current hostile relations with Iran, favoured by its allies the US and Saudi Arabia, best serve its economic and security interests. The UAE has already made several indications that it is already pursuing rapprochement with Iran:
Unlike the US and Saudi Arabia, the UAE did not directly blame Iran for the attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf in May/June. The UAE concluded that an unnamed state actor was most likely responsible but did not blame Iran, likely to avoid having to adopt punitive measures that might worsen tensions.
On 8 July, the UAE announced it would begin a phased withdrawal of its military forces from the Saudi-led campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Concerns over tensions with Iran were likely among several factors in the decision. Iran has supported the Houthi rebels with weapons since the beginning of the conflict. Abu Dhabi likely sought to cease fighting against the Iranian-proxy group in light of increased security threats from Iran in the Persian Gulf waters. By withdrawing from Yemen, the UAE has more manoeuvrability in their rapprochement with Iran as they are no longer fighting in opposition. The Gulf crisis may have increased the speed of the Emirati withdrawal from Yemen, which some reports say had been planned for months, and reinforced the conclusion that the Houthi rebels were no longer a priority.
On 30 July, the UAE sent a coastguard delegation to Tehran for the first time since 2013. Emirati officials told Reuters that the meeting was to discuss routine maritime issues, but it is likely that the timing was in part due to regional events.
The UAE remains concerned about the threat from Iran but is under pressure to avoid disruption to regional trade that would undermine its already slowing economy. In late May, the Emirati central bank said that GDP will expand only 2 percent in 2019, compared with a previous forecasted 3.5 percent growth published in March. This forecast, coupled with reports that non-oil companies have cut their staff at the sharpest rate in nearly a decade, have contributed to the recent policy shift on Iran.
The recent crisis in the Persian Gulf and US sanctions on Iran have increasingly undermined the UAE’s traditional role as a hub for foreign businesses, including with Iran. The UAE’s trade with Iran was worth USD 19 bn in 2018 but officials project this will plummet by half in 2019. The UAE’s location, economy and reputation as a safe haven for foreigners leave it uniquely susceptible to the fallout from even a low-level confrontation, creating strong incentive to reduce the risk of a conflict in the Gulf.
Further bilateral meetings between Tehran and Abu Dhabi are likely as the UAE pursues a rapprochement with Iran through diplomatic channels. Since the coastguard meeting in Tehran, the chairman of the Iran and UAE joint chamber of commerce has said that economic and political relations are improving, though no specific details were provided.
The UAE is, however, also likely to maintain strong ties with its allies US and Saudi Arabia, which may limit its flexibility in improving relations with Iran. Many Gulf Arab nations and Abu Dhabi’s international partners remain hostile to Iran. Going forward, the UAE will have to carefully n avigate between pursuing limited engagement with Iran while preserving important economic, political and security ties with its staunchly anti-Iran partners.
Longstanding areas of disagreement between the UAE and Iran will also limit any major shift in relations. Abu Dhabi is not seeking a full restoration of diplomatic ties with Iran, but rather, is shifting foreign policy course as it seeks to avoid an unpredictable conflict that could directly threaten its interests. Emirati grievances related to disputed territories, accusations of terrorist financing and support of proxy militias will likely remain areas of contention even if bilateral ties improve.
Crucially, there is little evidence that the UAE’s policy shift will be effective in containing the threat of a military spillover in the Gulf. As pressure from sanctions mount on Iran, Tehran is likely to grow more aggressive in attacks and seizures in the Strait of Hormuz. Vessels passing through UAE waters will remain attractive targets, as demonstrated by previous Iran-attributed attacks off the Emirati port of Fujairah.
PGI’s Intelligence specialists provide business intelligence and geopolitical risk analysis to multinational corporations and governments worldwide. For more information on how they can assist your organisation, please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Your free global geopolitical
PGI’s Risk Portal tool provides daily intelligence feeds, country threat assessments and analytical insights, enabling clients to track, understand and navigate geopolitical threats.
The Risk Portal gives users up-to-date information and analysis on global affairs.
The Risk Portal allows users to visualise information in a unique and instantly understandable way. Mapping filters enable the visualisation of incidents by threat category, time period, perpetrator and target type.
Risk Portal users can upgrade their accounts to include the Report Builder and Country Profile Generator features. The Report Builder allows users to select information, data and images from the Risk Portal and create bespoke reports and emails.
Subscribers to PGI’s Bespoke services receive tailored analysis on specific sectors and geographies of interest, delivered at a frequency they determine.
Making ongoing compliance easier for you and your business
GDPR is now in force. Make sure your business meets the necessary requirements, providing assurance for all of your customers and employees.
A full audit of your business to assess the level of your compliance against GDPR requirements.
Become GDPR compliant with minimal work. We will conduct an analysis, review, report and implement any necessary changes to your business.
We will conduct simple security assessments to help you understand and mitigate the potential risks to your business.
Get your business ready to face the cyber challenge.
We provide a full range of accredited, certified and bespoke services that assess the resilience of your cyber security posture.
PGI’s Qualified Security Assessors (QSA) will help you meet Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS).
Find out more on PCI DSS
Demonstrate your commitment to cyber security by achieving and maintaining accreditation for the globally-recognised information security standard.
Find out more on ISO 27001
Understand the threats of phishing and malware to avoid being targeted.
Undertake our phishing vulnerability assessment to reduce your organisation’s risk of attack, by measuring the cyber awareness of your workforce.
PGI will conduct a tailored phishing campaign, using multiple methods, to identify realism and train employees where necessary to mitigate future attacks.
PGI monitor multiple metrics to identify the types of phishing, generate in-depth analytical reports and provide an informed decision to help improve your organisation’s level of security and awareness.
Prevent attacks, respond to breaches and protect your business.
Our bespoke range of cyber security services not only protect your critical assets but provide the education you need to keep your operations and data safe.
Implement this cost-effective cyber security measure launched by the government to prevent cyber-attacks, demonstrate information security commitment to your clients, and attract new business by being recognised as a secure organisation.
Find out more on Cyber Essentials Accreditation
The most effective way to identify how attackers target your organisation’s weaknesses is by evaluating your system, your network security, and reporting on any vulnerabilities that could have an impact on your business.
Find out more on Penetration Testing
If your business has experienced breaches, network compromises or operational disruption, our team of cyber security specialists can deploy quickly, and will begin the process of detecting and eliminating the threat efficiently.
Find out more on Data Breach Response & Recovery
Data Breach Response & Recovery
We prevent attacks, respond to security breaches, and protect your business
Our team of specialists can deploy quickly and efficiently to begin the process of detecting, eliminating and preventing future threats of a breach.
A vital part of the response process is making a copy of your data for safe forensic analysis. We will work with you to preserve and use this evidence to discover the extent of an intrusion.
Find out more on Digital Forensics
We will identify and minimise the risks, as well as the possibility of future risks to your business.
Consistent interaction with your management team and recommendations on how to approach all outcomes that need attention.
Subscribe to our Cyber Bytes Newsletter
Keep yourself in the loop with PGI by signing up to our Monthly Cyber Bytes email. You will receive updates, tips and narrative around what has been happening in the world of information security.