As the coronavirus pandemic spreads on both shores of the Gulf, the importance of shared forums for discussing common challenges and implementing common strategies dramatically reveals itself. Iran is one of the countries hardest-hit by COVID-19 in the Middle East and has long had complicated relations with its Arab neighbours. Yet, many GCC countries, including those traditionally perceived as Iran’s main adversaries, have offered almost immediate help to Teheran, sending humanitarian support and tons of medical supplies. Although such initiatives have taken place in a confrontational context characterised by geopolitical rivalry, diplomatic tensions as well as military build-up, the deep pandemic’s economic backlash could force countries on both shores of the Gulf to review their assertive regional approaches in light of decreasing financial resources. This situation could pave the way for more conciliatory actions and new diplomatic engagement to address common human and hard security issues.
Could the COVID-19 crisis offer a chance for new diplomatic openings and why? Can they represent a base upon which building a collective endeavour towards soft and hard security issues?
Valeria Talbot, Co-Head, MENA Centre, ISPI, Italy
Sanam Vakil, Deputy Director and Senior Research Fellow, MENA Programme, Chatham House, UK
William F. Wechsler, Director, Rafik Hariri Center and Middle East Programs, Atlantic Council, USA