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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

US military chief urges GCC allies to put aside differences and focus on Iran

Gulf generals met in Kuwait with their American, Jordanian and Egyptian counterparts

Gen Joseph Votel, speaks at a GCC  armed force chiefs of staff meeting in Kuwait City. EPA
Gen Joseph Votel, speaks at a GCC  armed force chiefs of staff meeting in Kuwait City. EPA

Gen Joseph Votel, the head of US Central Command, yesterday urged feuding Gulf Arab states to put aside their differences and unite against Iranian efforts to destabilise the region.

“Two of our enduring security threats are present in this region – the destabilising actions of Iran and violent extremist organisations,” said Gen Votel, who heads US forces in the Middle East, before a military conference in Kuwait.

UAE Chief of Staff Lt Gen Hamad Mohammed Thani Al Rumaithi was at the meeting to hear Gen Votel say a clear military focus was imperative to “enhance and integrate our capabilities for our mutual national security interests” and “rise above all the other aspects”.

Kuwaiti Army Chief of Staff Gen Mohammed Al Khader, called on the GCC nations, Egypt and Jordan “to increase co-operation, and promote relations to face the security challenges in the region”.

Kuwait's Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Mohammad Al Khader, speaks during a GCC meeting. EPA
Kuwait's Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Mohammad Al Khader, speaks during a GCC meeting. EPA

The GCC chiefs of staff met with their Egyptian and Jordanian counterparts, as well as Gen Votel. The Egyptian delegation was led by Lt Gen Mohammed Hijazi.

The meeting came after three days of talks in Kuwait among the six GCC members’ chiefs of staff where the military commanders discussed increasing co-operation and eliminating terrorism in the region.

Wednesday’s meeting, also held in Kuwait, focused on “security and regional affairs, combating terrorism and extremism, as well as enhancing joint efforts to face various challenges in the region” the Kuwaiti military said.

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The meeting came as a surprise because Saudi Arabia, with the UAE and Bahrain, has been embroiled in a dispute with GCC member Qatar since June last year – the “differences” referred to by Gen Votel.

This week, the military commanders agreed on ways to enhance military co-operation and joint defence among the GCC armed forces, despite the diplomatic dispute.

The 15-month row has isolated Qatar from any contact with the other three GCC members, although there have been official GCC meetings where all were present, most notably at the GCC annual summit in December last year.

Qatari armed forces Chief of Staff Maj Gen Ghanem Bin Shaheen Al Ghanem. AFP 
Qatari armed forces Chief of Staff Maj Gen Ghanem Bin Shaheen Al Ghanem. AFP 

Kuwait’s Emir, Sheikh Sabah, met United States President Donald Trump in Washington last week, and looked at ways to “promote a conjoined military action”.

During that meeting, the emir and the US leader also looked at ways to solve the Gulf crisis.

In July, Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Al Jarallah said his country was considering US proposals for a strategic alliance in the Middle East to counter Iran’s influence in the region, also known as an “Arab Nato,” in reference to the western military alliance.

The force, backed by the US, would be set up to act as a counterbalance to Iran’s growing expansionist agenda in the Arab world.

Although Kuwait has historically taken a more neutral stance against Iran, the small GCC state has adopted a less tolerant policy towards Tehran’s growing meddling in its internal affairs.

Most recently, Kuwait expelled 15 of the Iranian embassy’s 19 diplomats last year during an investigation of a terrorist cell discovered in Kuwait City believed to be have ties to Tehran.

Last week, Gen Votel issued a warning to Iran on his first ­official visit to Yemen since the civil war broke out in 2015.

Wednesday’s annual meeting aims to encourage greater co-operation between the six GCC member states which, since the Qatar crisis, have been embroiled in the worst diplomatic row since its formation in 1981.