x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

GCC must unite in face of Iran threat, security experts urge

At a security conference, experts said Iran will have to cooperate with other countries in the region to ensure the safety of the Arabian Gulf.

Dr Pan Guang, professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences at the Open Symposium on ‘Security in the Arabian Gulf’ in Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies where countries addressed their concerns about the region’s security issues. Mona Al-Marzooqi/ The National
Dr Pan Guang, professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences at the Open Symposium on ‘Security in the Arabian Gulf’ in Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies where countries addressed their concerns about the region’s security issues. Mona Al-Marzooqi/ The National

ABU DHABI // Iran will have to cooperate with countries in the region to ensure the security of the Arabian Gulf, experts said on Monday.

Gulf countries were urged to unite and increase their military capabilities to face rising challenges.

“Iran poses a major threat to the GCC security and its increase in military power is leading to a greater disruption of the balance of power in the region,” said Maj Gen Khaled Abdullah Al Bu-Ainnain, former chief of the UAE Air Force and president of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.

“They’re building their arsenal of nuclear power and we should blame ourselves, not Iran, for not being active enough in creating a balance of power.”

He was speaking at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research-Oxford Symposium on security in the Arabian Gulf.

“After the invasion of Iraq, the content of the stability and the balance in the region shifted,” said Maj Gen Al Bu-Ainnain. “Iran grew in the strategic military balance, which is mainly in the offensive and means ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and asymmetric warfare and we are good in defensive means. But the defensive never stops the offensive and the Gulf must change its strategic military balance and the threat balance.”

He said Iran played a role in many regional instabilities, such as Bahrain, the eastern part of Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

“Today, we have a lot of assurance from the US and the Iranian foreign minister but we don’t want assurance,” he said. “We need to translate this into practical acts on the ground and, to do this, you have to sit at the table and discuss these issues.”

Maj Gen Al Bu-Ainnain referred to the three islands currently occupied by Iran as another issue the country was unwilling to discuss.

“The three Emirati islands occupied by Iran are not just an Emirati matter, they should be a Gulf matter,” he said. “All GCC members should have a unified stance and position and state their support for the Emirati right for request for the return of these islands.”

Maj Gen Al Bu-Ainnain said Iran had planted many thorns in the region and he hoped they would be removed.

Iran must “refrain from supporting extremist groups, withdraw all its sleeper cells in the region, stop escalating ethnic issues and stop the support of radicalism”.

“I’ve been in the military for 30 years, almost since day one of the GCC’s establishment, and we haven’t been able to sit with Iran to discuss security,” he said. “Iranians completely deny the role of Arab states.”

Experts said security issues in the region had to be solved by its citizens.

“There are factors that make GCC countries weary,” said Dr Albadr Alshateri, a researcher at the Armed Forces. “Iran has shown some [intentions] were not peaceful to these countries. Sleeper cells in the GCC, Lebanon, Bahrain, Syria, causing instability in the region, all these factors cause us to be sceptical.”

He said Iran did not necessarily have to be a threat to the region and it could cooperate, but it was refusing to enter negotiations with the UAE regarding the occupied islands.

“To us, we don’t need any proof, it’s very clear despite the fact that the UAE tried many initiatives to find solutions to this conflict,” he said. “The UAE isn’t requesting Iran to evacuate, it’s just asking clearly that the matter needs to be” dealt with at the International Court of Justice.

Dr Alshateri said the potential finalisation of the nuclear deal in six months could open channels of communication.

“There should be a strategic forum where all those issues can be aired,” he said. “We live in this region and we can’t choose our neighbours. Our geography ties us to this regional power so, if there is no communication, they won’t meet our concerns. The potential for this region economically and commercially is great and both stand to benefit from cooperation.”

cmalek@thenational.ae