Recently it was revealed that the US Navy referred to the Persian Gulf as the “Arabian Gulf” in its correspondences with Arab allies. In spite of historic disputes over the choice of wording (Persian vs. Arab) for this strategically significant body of water, the name Persian Gulf is considered official and recognized by most countries in the world (including the US). The use of “Arabian Gulf” instead of “Persian Gulf” has created strong reactions among Iranians throughout the world. In response to reactions by Iranians and others, sources close to the US Navy told a BBC Persian reporter, “This decision was made because US allies in the region generally and in their official correspondence use the term Arabian Gulf and we have stopped using the term Persian Gulf in order to be in line with them and will now be using the term the Arabian Gulf.”
This incident raises a number of questions: Would the use of “Arabian” instead of “Persian” by the US for the sake of staying in line with the allies in the region help ease tensions in the Middle East? Would extending a historic dispute into the already tense climate help to create an additional political dynamic in the region? Or is it going to simply amplify the Arab vs. Persian, Sunni vs. Shia and other ethnic disputes in the region? Shouldn’t the US, instead, focus on helping the countries in the region to overcome their historic and ethnic disputes and to focus on the current regional problems that beg the attention and collaboration of all stakeholders including Iran, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries?
To say that the Persian Gulf is Arabian Gulf is not a simple matter and it certainly triggers national pride against external forces such as the US and Arab nations among millions of Iranians who may or may not oppose the current government in Iran. While millions of Iranians are frustrated with President Ahmadinejad’s repressive policies and seek social, political and economic justice, they will not allow external forces to violate their national pride. Throughout history Iranians are notorious for their persistence in keeping the borders of Iran intact against foreign enemies and the Iranians of today are no exception to this long history of patriotism.
It would be a mistake to assume that the rising level of Iranian people’s dissatisfactions with their government leads to the toleration of an assault on the territorial integrity of Iran. The change of the name of a gulf that is utterly important for Iran’s present and future prosperity simply awakens deep emotions among Iranians from all political, religious, social and economic backgrounds. Consequently, such actions by the US will damage the organic growth of oppositions against the current government in Iran, as it will unite the people and the repressive government against external forces. Iranians prioritize matters of national pride and resistance against foreign enemies over domestic dissatisfactions and tensions. Thus, by changing the name of the Persian Gulf in order to keep its allies content, the US risks losing another important ally to whom it has continuously promised respect: the people of Iran.