x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Gulf 'must raise security efforts'

Experts warn of threat from organised crime and radicals in region.

The Strait of Hormuz, a focus of the Middle East Homeland Security Summit.
The Strait of Hormuz, a focus of the Middle East Homeland Security Summit.

ABU DHABI // GCC nations need an even more coordinated and grounded effort to ensure the security of oil platforms and critical infrastructure, analysts have stressed.

The Middle East Homeland Security Summit, which ended yesterday, brought together experts in national security, critical infrastructure and defence from 14 nations to discuss possible dangers to the region.

The GCC faces threats including ballistic missiles and terrorism, but also from organised crime and radicals, said Nasser Al Buhairi, a security and strategic development consultant for the Kuwaiti government.

"Iraq, Iran and Yemen are the main sources of organised crime in the area," Mr Al Buhairi said.

He pointed to organisations involved in narcotic and human trafficking in the Middle East, as well as arms smuggling through the Horn of Africa and areas around the Gulf region.

Johan Obdola, the deputy director in Latin America of the International Association of Seaports and Airports Police, said operatives for Middle East terrorist organisations had been identified as far afield as South America.

"Hizbollah operatives have been spotted with Mexican drug cartels and there have been many indicators of links with others across South America," Mr Obdola said.

Latin America has become the new geopolitical hot zone for transnational organised crime, he said.

"The Iranian regime has a lot of influence in Latin America with countries like Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil," Mr Obdola said. "Many governments and security organisations in South America now are looking into the Iranian involvement."

Any terrorist links need to be vigilantly watched for, he said, "especially with the situation that is happening with Iran and the international community - it can change for better or worse".

Yet despite the fear-mongering about Iran's arsenal of ballistic missiles, the weapons appear to be more for intimidating adversaries than for inflicting real damage, said Michael Elleman, the regional security expert from the International Institute of Strategic Studies.

"The Iranian missiles programme plays a major role in their intimidation capacity and creating national pride," said Mr Elleman.

He admitted Iran's missile inventory was the largest in the Middle East - second only to that of Israel - but said having that fire power was useless unless it was used to deliver nuclear bombs.

"The negative aspect of ballistic missiles is that if they are not carrying nuclear weapons they do not have much military use," said Mr Elleman, a missile engineer.

He said a one-tonne warhead would cause a damage radius of between 50 and 60 metres.

"With the accuracy of the missiles Iran has, half the time they land a kilometre away from the intended target," Mr Elleman said.

"In a best-case scenario, the probability is one in 100 that they would have an accurate missile strike on to a strategic target like a bridge or an airbase. In reality, it's more but more like one in 1,000."

To strike one target accurately, Iran would need to send out between 300 and 800 missiles, he said, which is much more than they have.

Other experts were more cautious and warned of the Iranian capability to cause damage to critical national infrastructure.

An Iranian attack on Kuwait's Al Ahmadi oil pump station in 1987 was a clear example of the vulnerability of critical infrastructure around the GCC, Mr Al Buhairi said.

"During that attack, 70 per cent of Kuwait's oil export capability was crippled," he said.

amustafa@thenational.ae