x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 September 2017

GCC to set up regional police force based in Abu Dhabi

Leaders also announce GCC naval force based in Bahrain, but plan further talks before forming joint military command to help deal with extremist threat.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, centre, attends the GCC Summit in Doha with, from left to right, Dr Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, UAE Minister of Development and International Cooperation and Minister of Interior and Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs. WAM
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, centre, attends the GCC Summit in Doha with, from left to right, Dr Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, UAE Minister of Development and International Cooperation and Minister of Interior and Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs. WAM

DOHA // The GCC will form a regional police force based in Abu Dhabi, and a joint naval force based out of Bahrain.

The police force, to be known as GCC-Pol, and naval force were announced at the annual summit of Gulf nations in Qatar last night.

The GCC leaders said a joint military command would also be formed after further discussions were held.

Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah, the Qatari foreign minister, said the police force would improve regional cooperation against terrorism.

“It will be an Interpol-like force but inside GCC countries,” Mr Al Attiyah said.

The plan for a joint naval force was announced in the summit communique, without details.

The GCC already has an emergency military force called Peninsula Shield, which intervened in Bahrain to quell protests in 2011.

Qatar joined its fellow GCC members at the summit in supporting Egypt under president Abdel Fattah El Sisi, signalling an end to months-long conflict over Doha’s backing of the Muslim Brotherhood.

GCC leaders announced their “full support to Egypt, the government and people in achieving its stability and prosperity”, and for Mr El Sisi’s “political programme”, the statement said.

The rapprochement that began last month underlines the GCC’s consensus on the urgent need to address the growing extremism that threatens to destabilise the region.

Arabian Gulf states have “no choice but to face terrorism”, Qatar’s emir told fellow leaders at the summit’s opening yesterday.

“Terrorism prevention is better than trying to cure it after it expands,” Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said.

The UAE delegation was led by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and included the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed.

The Saudi Arabian crown prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud represented his country and King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa attended for Bahrain.

Deputy prime minister Sayyid Fahd bin Mahmoud Al Said represented Oman, and emir Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah led Kuwait’s delegation.

Plans to unify GCC militaries and form a joint command were met with scepticism when announced last year.

The slow pace of many GCC projects – including a political union, common currency, and more intertwined economies – meant regional observers were unsure what would become of the group’s military ambitions.

But now, with several of the GCC countries taking part in airstrikes on ISIL militants in northern Syria, forming a joint force has gained new impetus.

Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science at Emirates University, said the goal of establishing a joint military command would be to create a “Gulf-version of Nato”.

In 1984, GCC countries worked together to form Peninsula Shield, a police force composed of officers from the different countries.

The military joint command is expected to have a much broader mandate to strike militants before they can harm member states and project military force to counter Iran.

“A joint military command will help coordinate at the operational level the different forces of the GCC countries against military threats,” said Dr Jean-Marc Rickli, an assistant professor at the department of defence studies at King’s College London who is based in Doha.

“The original Saudi proposal at the summit in 2013 suggested earmarking national units to create a force of up to 100,000 soldiers under a joint military command. The current proposal is geared towards establishing a joint military command focused on defensive operations with probably Iran in mind but also on rapid deployment operations able to strike terrorist groups. This reflects the changing nature of the threats in the Gulf over the last year which saw the rise of ISIS in Iraq, Syria and Egypt.”

He added that Gulf forces currently suffered from a lack of interoperability, making it difficult for them to work together.

To “see an improvement of the GCC militaries in joint operations, they will have to go beyond setting up a joint military command and they will also have to improve common training, adopt common standards and procedures, and exchange military officers to learn to work together,” he said.

Among the states, Oman has long been an outlier when it comes to GCC integration.

Muscat also appears to remain unsure about GCC states deepening their political, military and economic ties into a European Union-style arrangement, said Omani political analyst Ahmed Al Mukhaini.

“Oman was supportive of a GCC army, but without non-GCC components, and to be headquartered in Oman, not Saudi Arabia,” Mr Al Mukhaini said.

“Oman is opposing the GCC union on practical, pragmatic, and economic and sovereignty grounds.”

Yesterday’s summit came after months of tension between Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain over Doha’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia were particularly frustrated by Qatar’s support for the Islamist group. Both countries have listed the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation in the past year.

The rift caused an unprecedented diplomatic crisis between the states, with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain recalling their ambassadors from Doha.

Oman and Kuwait tried to mediate but tensions rose to a point that some doubted the summit would be able to go ahead as planned.

It was only after a last-ditch reconciliation meeting called by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah that the group agreed to set aside differences with the aim of battling regional threats together.

“If the meeting would not have taken place it would have been a blow for the reputation of Qatar, but more generally it would have led the GCC into a deeper crisis and maybe to its implosion,” said Mr Rickli.

Qatar took over the rotating GCC presidency for next year as expected.

Kuwait, which held the presidency this year, was praised in an open session for its humanitarian contributions this year, including a US$500 million (Dh1.83 billion) pledge in January for Syrian refugees.

The summit also focused on the threat posed by Iran’s regional ambitions, the Houthi takeover of Yemen, and relations with other Arab states such as Egypt.

jvela@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting from Associated Press and Agence France-Presse