Increasingly concerned over attacks on shipping in the Gulf, six neighboring Arab states are taking their case to the United Nations Security Council. These oil states would like the Council to adopt a resolution that would condemn air strikes on oil tankers sailing to and from Gulf countries - excluding the actual combatants, Iran and Iraq - and that would reaffirm the freedom of navigation in the area, according to reliable sources. Seven vessels have been damaged in the Gulf since April, reportedly by Iran and Iraq.
If such a resolution is mildly phrased and devoid of direct mention or criticism of Iran, it could be adopted, several council members say. But Iran, as it has done before with Security Council resolutions, will likely reject it, analysts here say.
Abdallah Bishara, chairman of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which groups the six nations - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates - is consulting in New York with representatives of key Western, nonaligned, and communist powers in an effort to decide on a realistic and effective course of diplomatic action. The GCC's UN bid has the backing of the Arab League, which on Sunday accused Iran of attacking Gulf tankers.
Iran insists that the Security Council discredited itself with regard to the Iran-Iraq war when, shortly after Iraq attacked Iran in September 1980, it adopted a resolution that failed to condemn the aggressor. The resolution simply asked both countries to refrain from using violence.
''Diplomatically, the Iran-Iraq feud is a mine field. The Arab oil states are nervous to the extreme,'' says a Western diplomat with years of experience with the Gulf situation. ''On the one hand, they are afraid that Iraq may collapse. On the other hand, they do not want to incur Iran's wrath.
''The nonaligned are wary of stepping on Iran's toes. The two superpowers have every reason to be very cautious as they pursue identical basic objectives: on the one hand, not anger the Arab countries and to some extent support Iraq in the immediate future so as to prevent its defeat; on the other hand, position themselves to 'catch the plum' - namely, Iran - when the fruit will be ripe, that is, when (Iran's leader Ayatollah) Khomeini passes away or when the Iranian revolution . . . comes to a halt.''
Britain is expected to play its hand cautiously: ''We are mainly interested in reaffirming the freedom of navigation,'' a British diplomat says.
The French, while heavily committed to Iraq through huge oil and trade agreements, do not support Iraq's recent escalation of the war. But they are also known to feel that Iran has not been pressured enough to enter peace talks with Iraq. For the time being, the United States and the Soviet Union are on the sidelines, trying to avoid showing their respective hands.
''They don't seek a confrontation in the area at this stage of the game,'' an informed UN official says. ''Obviously, Iraq, which is anxious to end the war, has recently launched an escalation in the hope that as a more dramatic and dangerous situation unfolds, the major powers (will) be persuaded to intervene and to try to bring the war to an end.''
The Arab oil states would like to focus the Council's attention only on the threat to navigation in the Gulf. Iran feels this question cannot be separated from the larger question of the 44-month war.
''Under the circumstances there is little the UN can do to restrain Iraq and Iran,'' says a key Council member. ''So far, all efforts by UN Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar, by the Organization of Islamic Conference, by the nonaligned to bring Iraq and Iran to the bargaining table have proved unsuccessful.''