Gulf Summit and Difficulties of Change

On November 18, Deputy Foreign Minister of Kuwait Khaled Al-Jarallah confirmed Qatar participation in the coming annual summit of heads of state of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, supposed to be held on December 9th in Riyadh. The statement of Al-Jarallah has raised many questions.

The first concerns the reconciliation between Qatar and the Arab Four (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt), that broke off relations with Qatar in June 2017, alleging it of supporting terrorism. More likely, Qatari participation will not be at the top level. Perhaps the Qatari foreign minister will take part at the summit. It seems that the summit will not lead to a concrete change in the Arab Four stand toward Qatar. The Kuwaiti statement reflects Kuwait's hope for returning Qatar back to the Gulf incubator.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Saudi Crown Prince, Mohamed Bin Salman reaffirmed their commitment to the over a year-long Qatar blockade. During a closed meeting held in Cairo, on November 26th, Sisi and Bin Salman stressed that they would accept “no concessions” to the reconciliation terms with Qatar, which were previously agreed upon by the blockade countries. They have added also that their countries would continue to confront what they described as “Iranian interferences in other countries in the region.” Sisi also reaffirmed Egypt’s commitment to preserving the security in the Gulf.

That raises the second question about the prospect of the "Arab NATO". Trump administration has been working to create a security alliance from six Gulf countries in addition to Egypt, Jordan and maybe Israel. The alliance is unofficially known as the Arab NATO. It also carries names such as the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA). American Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arabian Gulf Affairs, Tim Lenderking, said that the administration plans to hold a summit in January 2019 to launch the new alliance.

The Arab NATO was declared last year during Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia, where huge arms deals were announced. It supposes to serve as an Arab version of NATO. Its aim is "to counter Iranian aggression, terrorism, extremism and ensure stability in the Middle East." It would serve US interests through strengthening pan-Arab resolve to counter Iran’s actions in the region. Tensions have increased with Iran since Trump announced in May the American withdrawal from the nuclear deal signed in 2015 "to limit Tehran's nuclear ambitions." It would also establish a local force to fight violent extremist groups and ease the military and strategic burden on the US.

It is likely that the Arab NATO will remain just an idea. Among the main challenges to the planned alliance is the ongoing boycott by the Arab Four for Qatar, which hosts the largest US air base in the region. That was a main reason for the postponement of the Gulf-US summit scheduled in last May. In addition, Kuwait and Oman have historically enjoyed close ties of peace and cooperation with Iran. It is unlikely that Oman will accept abandoning its neutrality towards Iran, especially as it has already refused to participate in an Arab alliance to "support legitimacy" in Yemen. Jamal Khashoggi case has added more difficulties for the project and blocking Trump's serious step toward it.

The Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT) will continue to be the cornerstone of the security arrangements in the region led by Saudi Arabia. It was founded by Mohammad Bin Salman on December 15, 2015. Its chief of staff is Raheel Sharif (Pakistan) and headquarters in Riyadh. The "Arab Shield 1" military maneuvers were held on November 3-16, 2018, with naval, air, and ground units from Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates in western Egypt.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are going through a critical phase and faces many challenges, among most important is the division over Qatari issue, with which the summit, and perhaps the council itself, loses its efficiency.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.