Saudi King Abdullah Is Rebuffed by Oman and Qatar Rulers
Once again, the Saudi royal family was forced to shelve its long dream of a unified Arabian Gulf.
For 31 years, Saudi monarchs have been trying to persuade the Gulf emirs, sultans and kings of the world’s biggest oil producers, that it was to the benefit of each and everyone’s security to join forces under a single federal government. They first tried during the long and bloody war between revolutionary Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, and again in the years of the first and second Gulf Wars of 1991 and 2003.
This time, Saudi rulers had found powerful levers in the galloping nuclear and diplomatic perils posed by Iran and the grinding down of Sunni strength by the Shiites and allied Alawites led by Syria’s Bashar Assad.
Saudi King Abdullah was certain that, this time, the Sunni rulers of the Gulf meeting at a summit in Riyadh Monday, May, 14, would agree to pool their military and economic resources to create a powerful world bloc and welcome a federal umbrella spread over them all against the Islamic Republic glowering across the water. So sure was he of good results, that Riyadh leaked reports ahead of the summit that federal steps were already afoot between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and a third unnamed emirate
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Gulf sources disclose the unnamed party as the United Arab Emirates-UAE.
President Barack Obama showed his support for the Saudi initiative by three steps:
US arms sales to Bahrain are on again
1. The resumption of arms sales to the Bahrain was decided in Washington Sunday, March 13. Because the US implicitly dropped reform as its pre-condition, this act was a major setback for Bahrain's Shiite-dominated opposition.
Washington suspended the $53 million transaction for the sale of military equipment to the tiny Sunni kingdom last September after its security forces violently suppressed protests and killed more than 50 people.
The Obama administration, while disapproving of Saudi military intervention to save the Bahraini throne from the uprising which flared in February 2011, revived the arms transaction as an important concession to Saudi King Abdullah. More than 1,500 Gulf emirate troops, most Saudi, were deployed in Bahrain at a time when Washington was committed to supporting popular revolts against autocratic Arab rulers.
The US is now supporting the very Gulf emirs who suppressed popular dissent, for the sake of enhancing its strategic ties with Saudi Arabia against the Iranian peril.
2. For the first time since US forces massed in Saudi Arabia for war after Saddam Hussein grabbed Kuwait, substantial American navy and marine forces have landed in the oil kingdom: Monday, May 14, the 24th MEU Amphibious Ready disembarked from the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima at Jeddah port, the Red Sea headquarters of the Saudi Navy. The US troops coming ashore were welcomed by local military chiefs with an invitation to visit an impromptu weapons exhibition.
America secures Saudi Arabia’s back door
The Obama administration therefore not only removed the strings from its arms sales to Bahrain – even though Saudi troops are still here – but also committed the United States to defending Saudi Arabia’s back door, in consideration of heightened Iranian naval activity in the Red Sea and its military and covert intervention in the Yemen conflict on the oil kingdom’s southern border.
3. On Wednesday, two days after the Riyadh summit, Chief of US Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert and US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz appeared together at the Brookings Institution in Washington to present a new American battle doctrine called the Air-Sea Battle (ASB), which was designed to counter Iran’s avowed strategy of blocking the Strait of Hormuz to world oil traffic in time of war.
They dubbed the Iranian concept A2AD: Anti-Access/Area Denial.
ASB relies on tightly coordinated operations that cross operating "domains" – air, land, sea, undersea, space and cyberspace – Adm. Greenert explained. It brings into play submarines for hitting air defenses with cruise missiles in support of Air Force bombers; F-22 Air Force stealth fighters taking out enemy cruise missile threats to Navy ships, and a Navy technician confusing an opponent's radar system so that an Air Force UAV can attack an enemy command center.
The message conveyed to Gulf rulers reluctant to join a Gulf federation against Iran was that the Obama administration has thrown American military might behind a united Gulf bloc – and will continue to do so.
Abdullah: Choose between the NATO and the EU models
Notwithstanding these US and Saudi inducements, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources report that most of the Gulf rulers were lukewarm at best to the federation plan and dispersed without reaching any final decisions.
The summit’s official communiqué said that the Gulf Council of Cooperation’s foreign ministers would inspect a report drawn up by an ad-hoc committee of eighteen – three from each of the six member-states – and submit recommendations to an extraordinary summit in Riyadh. No date was mentioned. Saudi foreign minister Saud Al Faisal told reporters after the summit “the idea of establishing a Gulf federation is a bust.”
But the Saudi king was not about to give up.
An hour after the summit got down to discussion, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Gulf sources disclose a file was distributed to the participants containing in detail two alternative federal plans drawn up by the Saudi king: One proposed expanding the Gulf Council of Cooperation into a NATO-type defense pact with the authority to sign defense treaties with the North Atlantic Alliance Organization.
Those treaties would tie the US, NATO and the GCC into a continuous defense entity.
The second plan proposed restructuring the GCC on the lines of the European Union. It is a little-known fact that the EU is not just a political and economic federation but also boasts a military arm with commitments.
Under the Saudi plan, the expanded GCC would eventually establish a common legislature, introduce a common currency and passports. Above all, its members would be bound together by a mutual defense pact.
Omani and Qatari emirs dead set against unification
At the end of the day, most of the Gulf rulers agreed to reserve final judgment until they had studied the two plans at home in detail.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources disclose that the most outspoken opponents of federation were Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of Oman and Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar.
Kuwait ruler Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah was less unequivocal but withheld endorsement.
The only ruler ready to consider the plan seriously was United Arab Emirates leader, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, but he too wanted time for a careful perusal of the Saudi blueprints.
Our sources report that Abdullah will not let matters stand there. He has enlisted an army of emissaries and lobbyists to travel round the capitals of the reluctant rulers and keep on nagging them into assenting.
He can’t afford to let it go because the wholesale Arab Gulf rejection of union must impinge vitally on American, Saudi and Iranian interests in the region:
– The Saudi royal family suffered a serious blow to its prestige at home, among its neighbors and in the Arab world at large, one which has slowed down further progress in developing strategic ties between the Saudi royal house and Bahrain’s ruling Al Khalifas.
Our Gulf sources report that, no sooner were the emirs gone from Riyadh, than top Saudi princes were at each other’s throats, each blaming the others for the fiasco ending the most important diplomatic initiative the Saudi government had undertaken in the eighteen months since the outbreak of the Arab Revolt.
They were all forced to admit that the Riyadh summit should have been better prepared.
Setback for Saudis, triumph for Iran
– King Abdullah was deeply offended by Sultan Qaboos’s attitude. He went to a great deal of trouble including personal phone calls to persuade the Omani ruler to attend the summit and congratulated himself on his success. However, Saudi officials forget to check where the Qaboos stood on Gulf federation although it was the main item on the agenda. They were therefore taken aback when he opted out.
The Saudis also accuse the Qatari ruler Al Thani of stabbing them in the back. This accusation is not uncommon, but it occurred at a particularly sensitive moment when Saudi and Qatari intelligence services were cooperating closely to arm and aid the Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime. Their falling-out is bound to affect this collaboration.
– It was certainly a triumph for Iran against Saudi Arabia. Tehran is expected to rejoice loudly over Riyadh’s loss of footing in the race for regional pre-eminence. A Saudi-dominated Gulf federation would have given the oil kingdom wings for flying to the finishing line.
– The broad Gulf rejection of union was also a blow to the Obama administration’s credibility. Although Washington has invested substantial diplomatic and military effort into winning the region over to acceptance of the US as a dependable champion of the Gulf oil states against Iran, their rulers remain unimpressed, even as the US shows willingness to exercise its military might against the Islamic Republic and its nuclear program.