Mecca summits reflect regional resolve to face Iranian threats

It is possible new strategic transformations in the Arab region could have effects beyond the showdown with Iran.
Sunday 02/06/2019
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (4th L, front row) poses with leaders attending the Arab summit held in Mecca, May 30. (SAP/DPA)
Critical challenges. Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (4th L, front row) poses with leaders attending the Arab summit held in Mecca, May 30. (SAP/DPA)

MECCA - Arab and Gulf emergency summits in Mecca illustrated political and strategic shifts in the region as it faces mounting tensions fuelled by Iran’s behaviour.

A key driver for this transformation is the Saudi leadership’s unequivocal attitude towards the Iranian threat as it denounced Tehran’s “criminal” and “terrorist” acts during the two meetings of May 30 and the May 31 summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and called for regional and international action to meet the challenge.

In his address to the Arab summit, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud warned that Iran “threatens the security and stability of our countries and interferes in their affairs.”

He said: “The failure to take a deterrent and firm stand to confront these terrorist practices of the Iranian regime in the region is what has led it to persist in its actions and to escalating them in the form we see today.”

King Salman called on the international community to shoulder its responsibility regarding “the threat to international peace and security posed by Iran’s practices and its sponsorship of terrorist activities in the region and the world, and to use all means to deter this regime and limit its expansionism.”

The Arab summit’s final statement blamed Iran for the deterioration of the security situation in the region. There were objections to the final communique by Iraq as President Barham Salih warned of repercussions of full-scale war “if the current crisis is not carefully managed.”

Arab leaders stressed Saudi Arabia’s right to defend its sovereignty and considered attacks by Iran-backed Houthis as a threat to Arab national security.

They urged the international community to adopt a firm stand against Iran following attacks on oil installations in Saudi Arabia May 14, and sabotage of vessels off the UAE coast May 12.

The Gulf summit condemned attacks by the Houthis, who have fired 225 missiles and carried out 155 drone attacks against Saudi Arabia. It condemned the sabotage operations on vessels in UAE waters.

The summit also highlighted adherence of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to the Joint Defence Agreement, which considers any attack on any of them as an attack on all member countries.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, speaking at a post-meeting news conference, said the Arab summit sent a “very firm message to anyone who interferes in Gulf affairs or attacks the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.”

He added that the clear consensus is that “Gulf security is a dimension of Arab national security.”

Leaders at the summit seemed willing to draw practical conclusions, even at a military level, regarding the Iranian threat.

Aboul Gheit said “developments and events may lead to realising the need for creating a joint Arab force, since pressures generate reactions.” GCC Secretary-General Abdul-Latif al-Zayani, at the same news conference, said, in the case of the GCC, “the system of command and joint defence is already in place, indeed.”

Sources at the summits said the attending leaders moved closer towards a common strategic plan to deal with Iranian threats. The road map, they said, would take into consideration US support but would be more regionally self-reliant.

Mohamed al-Hammadi, editor-in-chief of the Emirati newspaper Al Roeya, said there is a growing awareness the region can no longer afford ambiguous positions regarding Iranian threats.

Alluding to Iraqi and Qatari ambivalence about Iran, he pointed out that “Arab leaders have emphasised the need to steer away from equivocal positions.”

Analysts said the success of the summit was in galvanising an Arab determination to meet the Iranian challenge.

Jordanian political analyst Raafat Ali said: “Both the Arab and Gulf summits have risen to the level of the challenges and, in an unprecedented show of unity, agreed to confront Iranian threats.”

The question remains whether the near-unanimous positions of the two summits will compel Iran to review its policies.

Egyptian Arab affairs expert Sabri Azzam said decisions announced at the summits “carry signals that Iran cannot afford to ignore so as not to lead the region to serious risks for which Tehran will be the first to suffer the consequences.”

It is possible new strategic transformations in the Arab region could have effects beyond the showdown with Iran and lead to a new approach in overall Arab relations.