Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have formed a new military and trade partnership separate from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The move came on the eve of the GCC summit in Kuwait, which opened on Dec.5. The top-level meeting was supposed to last for two days but was closed in a few hours to end in failure. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent ministers to the GCC meeting, rather than heads of state, as usual. Bahrain and Oman were represented at the level of prime minister and deputy prime minister respectively.
The Gulf Cooperation Council was formed in 1981 to promote security and economic co-operation among the six Gulf States and counter Iran. Today the alliance, which also includes Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain, is riven by divisions over the policy toward Qatar. The Anti-Terror Quartet – Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt – cut all ties with Qatar in June to punish it for being too close to Iran. The crisis has driven it to the brink of collapse and forced Qatar to turn to Turkey, Iran and Oman to break the imposed economic blockade. The US, which has some 10,000 troops stationed at Qatar’s sprawling al-Udeid Air Base, has failed to settle the crisis by diplomatic means. The summit in Kuwait was dominated by the continuing dispute.
The new Saudi-UAE “Joint Cooperation Committee” is bound to be seen as an alternative, if not substitute, to the malfunctioning GCC. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the only two nations with significant military potentials, advocate a more aggressive approach to Iran. They are engaged in joint military action in Yemen, leading the fight against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. The hostilities are expected to escalate following the killing of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh this month, after the breakdown of his alliance with the Houthis.
The idea to forge an alliance of Arab Sunni leaders to confront and curb Iranian influence in the region has been floating for a long time but never came to fruition. Saudi Arabia leads a 41-nation alliance of Muslim nations against terrorism formed in December 2015. It has not done much since then but in late November Riyadh held the first ever high-level meeting of alliance to revive the project.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have ambitions to step up their military presence in the region. Riyadh is building a military base in Djibouti, a member of the Saudi-led Arab coalition situated in the Horn of Africa, in accordance with a military agreement the two nations have signed recently.
The UAE is also expanding its influence in the Horn of Africa by funding ports and military bases. In April, it inked a deal with the self-declared republic of Somaliland, allowing it to set up a military base in the port of Berbera. The port of Assab in Eritrea has become a UAE’s naval base to support the operations in Yemen. In May, the Emirates signed a new, updated defense accord with the United States that could allow Washington to send more troops and equipment there.
Attempts to form blocs with many members have proven to be ineffective. The two nations adopt a new strategy to unite those who are willing to contribute and possess the means to achieve the set goals. Bahrain may contribute politically and is expected to join but the new alliance badly needs Egypt to substantially boost its military capability.
Last month, Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s energy minister, publicly admitted for the first time that Israel and Saudi Arabia have been in covert contact as both countries strive to confront Iran in the Middle East. Also in November, IDF Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Gadi Eizenkot, said that his country was ready to share “intelligence information” with Riyadh on Tehran. General Yakov Amidror, a former senior advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Feisal were reported to meet publicly at the Washington Institute in Washington, D.C. last year.
Since 2016, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has participated in joint military exercises that included Israel. The most recent one – Iniohos 2017 – was held in March at a Greek air force base. Between the end of 2013 and June 2015, Saudi and Israeli officials secretly held five bilateral meetings in India, Italy and the Czech Republic to discuss what both governments perceive as a grave threat posed by Iran to the Middle East. Discussions about an Israel-Arabia Peninsula states’ alliance are continuing to intrigue many. Jordan and Egypt have already established diplomatic ties with Israel.
The GCC has failed to address the controversial issue. The bloc will never be the same. It is fragmenting and its very existence is in question. We have a new political and military alliance emerging to change the Middle East’s landscape. It will have fewer members but the united, pursuing the goal of rolling Iran back. The formation of the new military alliance to support he view that the war with Iran.
By Andrei Akulov
Source: Strategic Culture