By Patrick Cronin, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Patrick M. Cronin is senior adviser at the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington. The views expressed are his own.
Advancements in Iranian missile capabilities are driving Gulf Arab countries to cooperate on a theater-wide missile defense system. The fear is that Iran could launch missiles at refineries, population centers, oil tankers and naval forces if conflict erupted. To deter and, if necessary, destroy Iranian missiles, the United States is championing a defense shield across the Arabian Peninsula, covering Kuwait to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
But pronouncements are easier to make than to realize in practice. Can these Gulf nations overcome their differences for their mutual protection? Is U.S. diplomacy sufficient to forge such collaboration?
The proposal occurs amid escalating tensions with Iran. Last year the International Atomic Energy Agency raised new concerns about Iran's secretive nuclear programs. Diplomacy failed to address these issues, prompting the United States and Europe to tighten sanctions against Iran's oil economy. While the Tehran regime ratchets up its rhetoric, senior U.S. officials are trying to forestall an Israeli pre-emptive attack on Iran's nuclear sites and to reassure Gulf leaders that a U.S.-led defensive umbrella would mitigate the effects of any conflict.