Arab leaders display unity against Iran at Mecca summits

The Saudi king accused Iran of “harbouring global and regional terrorist entities and threatening international waterways."
Sunday 02/06/2019
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud delivers a speech during the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Mecca, May 30. (Reuters)
A firm stance. Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud delivers a speech during the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Mecca, May 30. (Reuters)

ABU DHABI - The threat posed by Iran to the Arab Gulf region and broader Middle East featured high on the agenda of the emergency summit in Mecca, which began May 30 and stretched into the early morning hours of May 31.

The meeting, called by Saudi Arabia, was attended by representatives of all Gulf and Arab countries, including heads of states and senior delegations, in a show of unity against Iran’s threatening behaviour in the Arabian Gulf.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issued a stinging rebuke to Iran, calling on Arab states to confront Tehran’s “criminal” actions and said the international community should use “all means to stop the Iranian regime from interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.”

He also accused Iran of “harbouring global and regional terrorist entities and threatening international waterways,” a reference to attacks on oil-pumping stations in Saudi Arabia and against oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

While it advocated for a firm response against Iran’s behaviour, Riyadh also highlighted its commitment to regional peace. “Saudi Arabia is keen on the security and stability of the region,” King Salman said, adding that “the kingdom’s hand will always be extended in peace.”

Attacks off the UAE coast have been blamed on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). On May 29, US national security adviser John Bolton said sabotaged ships were attacked “almost certainly by Iran” and warned that the United States would strike back if it came under attack. His statement echoed Pentagon officials who said that the IRGC was directly responsible for attacks on the tankers.

The attacks on oil-pumping stations in Saudi Arabia were claimed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels, leading to a suspension of operations of the kingdom’s main cross-country oil pipeline. Since 2015, the Houthis, who have used unmanned drones and medium-range ballistic missiles against Saudi Arabia, have become a major threat to security in Saudi Arabia and to maritime navigation, including in Bab el Mandeb Strait, Gulf states said.

The final communique by leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) denounced the complicity of Iran with Yemen’s Houthis. “We condemn the launch of ballistic missiles manufactured in Iran from Yemen into Saudi Arabia,” said the communique. “We also condemn the operations that the Houthis carry out against Saudi Arabia.”

The GCC communique and that of the Arab summit reiterated Saudi Arabia’s and the United Arab Emirates’ right to defend their interests in the face of the attacks.

“Iran should respect the sovereignty of Arab states and stop interfering in the affairs of countries, which is threatening security and stability in the region,” the leaders said.

Egypt led the way in voicing support for Arab Gulf states, with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declaring that Egypt’s national security was intrinsically linked to the security of the Arab Gulf. Sisi described the attack on a Saudi oil pipeline and the sabotage of oil vessels as “explicit acts of terrorism,” adding that all means should be used to deter those responsible.

Kuwait, on the other hand, called for “wisdom” and “dialogue” to address mounting tensions in the region. Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah said the emergency summit was taking place at a critical juncture and that participating countries “should grasp the gravity of the event.”

“Our Arab nation has been witnessing a sharp decline in its security and stability, which affected our ability to activate our common Arab action and derailed potentials of development and construction of our countries,” Sheikh Sabah said.

While the Arab states were unified in their condemnation of recent attacks on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Iraq expressed objections to parts of the final communique.

Iraqi President Barham Salih, whose country maintains close relations with both Washington and Tehran, said the security and stability of Iran are in the interest of all Muslim and Arab states.

“We do not hope that its security is targeted because we share 1,400km of borders and diverse relations,” he said, referring to Iran. “Honestly, the security and stability of a neighbouring Islamic country are in the interest of Muslim and Arab states.”

While he said Iraq condemns the attack by Iran-allied Yemeni rebels on a Saudi oil pipeline, he stressed that the region should seek stability based on the respect of sovereignty and the rejection of violence.

Iraq has offered to mediate between the United States and Iran amid escalating tensions and as Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers unravels.

The final communique that Iraq objected to denounced the firing of Iran-made ballistic missiles from Yemen towards Saudi Arabia, Iranian intervention in the Syrian crisis, Iran’s interference in the affairs of Bahrain and support of designated terrorist groups there and Iran’s occupation of three islands belonging to the United Arab Emirates.

Despite disagreement over how to deal with Iran’s threat, the summit was deemed “successful” by participants and outside observers.

The Washington Post described the gathering as “a show of unity against Iran” and an occasion for Saudi Arabia to declare its right to self-defence amid escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran.

“The leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and Saudi diplomacy scored a major success at the Gulf and Arab Summit,” said UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash on Twitter. “The Arab world unanimously rejects Iranian interference in its affairs and sends a firm and rational message in difficult regional and international circumstances.”

“Mecca summits achieved great political success,” said political analyst Yahya Ghalib. “The communiques of both summits were marked by a political vocabulary that combined strength, flexibility, diplomacy and resolve. There was no ambiguity and an emphasis on the security and safety of Saudi Arabia and the UAE against all forms of Iranian aggression. There has also been real organisational success for both summits.”

Iran reacted angrily to the outcome of the summits, rejecting what it called “unfounded” accusations levelled at Tehran by Arab leaders.