US-GCC defence relations solidifying after Iran deal
Dubai - Gulf Arab states might not be all that happy about the nuclear deal the United States and world powers reached with Iran. However, they must certainly be pleased with Washington’s decision to speed up defence orders aimed at helping these countries maintain a qualitative edge.
US President Barack Obama pledged during his meeting with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in May to enhance security cooperation and strengthen defence relations to counter threats facing the Arabian Gulf region.
According to a statement by the White House, “The United States and the GCC will work together to set up a dedicated Foreign Military Sales procurement office to process GCC-wide sales, streamlining third-party transfers and exploring ways the United States could accelerate the acquisition and fielding of key capabilities.”
The United States also increased counterterrorism training courses to GCC special forces and maintained joint military exercises.
Since April, the US State Department has authorised the sale of $7.8 billion worth of defence equipment to Saudi Arabia. The systems being fast-tracked to Saudi Arabia include Patriot PAC-3 missile defence systems, guided bombs and helicopters.
The United Arab Emirates has been granted its requests to procure guided bombs and infrared countermeasures to help protect warplanes against heat-seeking, surface-to-air missiles.
Bahrain was granted earlier in August requests for additional spare parts and accessories for its US-built F-16 fighter jets.
Defence industry sources in the Gulf region reported a spike in requests by GCC states for weapons and spare parts, largely due to the air campaign a Saudi-led Arab alliance has been waging against Iranian-backed Houthi militias in Yemen.
Some GCC air forces have also been involved in the air operations by the US-led alliance attacking extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.
Gulf officials and experts have voiced concern over Iran possibly using the billions of dollars it will be receiving as a result of lifting of international economic sanctions to bolster its military capabilities.
With the exception of Oman, GCC states regard Iran as a major threat. Much of their defence programmes, especially ballistic and cruise missile arsenals and naval forces, are related facing an Iranian threat.
GCC states have invested heavily in air power and air defence capabilities as well as naval forces. They aim to achieve qualitative edge to make up for shortages in manpower compared to Iran.
International sanctions prevented Iran from modernising its relatively old air power and naval forces. Tehran resorted to reverse engineering and technologies from China, Russia and North Korea to build its defence industry.
Iran has built a formidable missile arsenal and a large fleet of small attack craft that helped it develop an asymmetrical maritime capability.
Iran has already started negotiations with Russia to acquire the S-300 long-range air defence system, even though the nuclear agreement delays the lifting of the arms embargo on Iran for about five years.
It appears that the GCC states will try to benefit as much as possible from Washington’s promise to facilitate and speed up defence purchases to widen the technological gap with Iran.
US officials asserted in recent meetings with GCC officials of their intent to bolster defence cooperation despite the nuclear deal with Iran that does not tackle other outstanding issues the West and GCC states have with Tehran, such as its support to terrorist groups and its missiles arsenal and meddling in Arab affairs.
US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter visited a number of US allies in July to assure them of his country’s continued commitment.
The Pentagon issued a statement after Carter’s stop in Saudi Arabia, which included meetings with King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and other officials, saying the two sides discussed “a range of issues pertaining to both nations’ mutual security interests, including checking Iranian destabilising activities in the region and countering violent extremism”.
It is too early to tell how the Iranian nuclear deal will affect other conflicts in the region. Will it lead to more stability or to continued turmoil? Until the situation becomes clearer, the United States seems determined not to lose its Arab allies and provide them with tools that would make them feel safe.
Furthermore, enhancing defence cooperation has encouraged US allies to be more proactive in confronting threats in the region and more self-reliant. Washington’s long-term policy is to reduce its military footprint in the region and rely more on its allies to confront security threats.
Therefore the Iranian nuclear deal has been a blessing to the US defence industry as well as Arab Gulf militaries, which will now not be waiting as long to get their requests met by Washington.