UAE, Saudi Arabia close ranks in face of regional challenges

Considering that the challenges are interconnected, it is important not to deal with them in isolation but as part of a comprehensive Saudi-UAE regional strategy.
December 17, 2017
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir (L) speaks with UAE's Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan (C)

In a region plagued by conflict and violence, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are increasingly aware of the many challeng­es ahead. From the recent US announcement on Jerusalem to Iran’s provocations to the spread of political Islam — particularly by Turkey and Qatar — the issues fac­ing the Arab world are as numer­ous as ever.

These developments have complicated the geopolitical land­scape and underscored the need for cooperation between the Sau­dis and Emiratis, who share the same vision on regional issues.

How to prioritise these many challenges — in the Palestinian territories, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and the overall region — is a chal­lenge itself. However, considering that the challenges are intercon­nected, it is important not to deal with them in isolation but as part of a comprehensive Saudi Arabia- UAE regional strategy.

Saudi King Salman bin Ab­dulaziz Al Saud met with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan on December 13 in Riyadh to strengthen coordination between the two countries. The talks were a week after the formation of a new political and military alliance aimed at going beyond formalities and fostering joint Arab action.

Also at the meeting was Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sal­man bin Abdulaziz, who remains keen on overseeing implementa­tion and identifying areas of pri­ority, especially considering de­velopments in Yemen. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE stressed that security in Yemen, which is of critical importance for the stabil­ity of the Arabian Peninsula, must not be jeopardised.

Repercussions of the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital were touched on during the Riyadh meeting. That decision has led to fierce com­petition over who can express more concern for Jerusalem in the Arab world. Ironically, some of the more outspoken countries are known for their good relations with Israel and have received senior Israeli politicians on more than one occasion.

Soon after US President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem statement on December 6, Qatar, Turkey, Iran and their proxies, including Hez­bollah, immediately began with their inflammatory rhetoric, using the Palestinian cause for their own political ends.

First among the bigmouths was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who used a special meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul to bolster his profile domestically and in the Muslim world.

Such opportunism and grand­standing are nothing new for Erdogan. In 2010, following the Gaza flotilla raid — in which nine activists were killed by Israeli forces while carrying humanitar­ian aid and construction supplies to Gaza — Erdogan’s confronta­tional approach to Israel boosted his popularity in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Indeed, Erdogan will use any situation, however tragic, to blame his Arab neighbours, score political points and play on the nationalistic feelings of the Arab people. What he has no desire to tell his admirers is that fur­ther division cannot serve the Arab world. Only Arab unity and strength can help the Palestinians in their struggle for an independ­ent state.

Similar criticisms apply to lead­ers in Qatar and Iran. Given the realities in the region, Turkey, Qatar and Iran cannot and should not emerge as defenders of the Palestinian cause.

Those three countries, along with their proxy groups and militias, have been at the fore­front of sowing division in the Arab world. They have supported extremism across the Middle East and beyond, fanned the flames of sectarian conflict in Yemen, Syria and Iraq and propelled politi­cal Islam as a source of growing instability. Their tactics are meant to produce further fragmentation and create a political vacuum, increasing the prospect of conflict and foreign intervention.

To counter those threats, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have set clear-cut policies to fight extrem­ism, sectarianism and terror. Their joint efforts, in line with the principle of solidarity, are aimed at preserving the unity of the Arab region.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia’s and the UAE’s concerns are not confined to their respective bor­ders but affect the Arab region at large.

It is worth noting the combined $130 million pledge of Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE to fight jihadism in West Africa’s Sahel region. The Riyadh-based Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition is expected to support the G5 Sahel — the five-country counterterror­ism coalition in the Sahel — with training, intelligence and logisti­cal support.

To ensure a better future, the Arab region should be indivisible. Any threat or accusation towards one Arab country should be con­demned by peoples and govern­ments in the region. Only regional unity will hinder foreign inter­vention and allow the Arab world to fend off hostile plots aimed at destabilising the region.

Coordination, cooperation and strategic alliances are needed more than ever.