In a desperate blocking action at the GCC summit, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal is reported to have squashed the UAE’s negotiations with Iran for the partial handover of three disputed islands in the Strait of Hormuz.
Gulf sources, some of them Saudi, told DEBKA Weekly Thursday, that the prince managed at the last moment of the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Kuwait this week to push through a secret resolution for shutting down the UAE-Iran deal: He moved that the three islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb, which command the vital shipping lane through the Strait of Hormuz, be confirmed as Gulf territory and a United Arab Emirates possession, which must not pass into foreign hands and over which shared control is non-negotiable.
The three islands must therefore return to full UAE rule, the Saudi prince affirmed. The ruling he proposed encompassed the three islands, as well as its territorial waters, E-zones and air space.
We have not been able to confirm that the Saudi resolution won acceptance by all the seven GCC rulers. Without unanimity, it is not binding on the treaty members.
Saudis fight to separate the emirates from Tehran
But even if it failed the GCC unanimity test, Riyadh has embraced the motion’s provisions as a central article of policy and a device for locking the Gulf door against Tehran, in the wake of Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s successful four-day tour of Gulf emirate capitals.
During that tour, Zarif was able to persuade the UAE ruler Sheikh Khalifa bin Zaed Al Nahyran and his foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan to discuss with Tehran the fate of the three islands.
This was to be Tehran’s opening shot for détente with the Gulf rulers.
(The deal was outlined in debkafile on Dec. 10 and summarized in HOT POINTS below)
As well as trying to hold the door shut against Tehran, the Saudis are reported by our Gulf sources to have embarked on a dialogue with the seven UAE rulers, who make up the Federal Supreme Council, its highest legislative and executive body.
Riyadh is making a special effort to persuade Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharq of Fujarah, one of the emirates, to shun all dealings with Tehran.
On the same and other issues, Riyadh is equally estranged from Sultan Qaboos of Oman and the new Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
Oman’s Sultan Qaboos considers quitting the GCC
Because of the discord rending the GCC, the participants of its 34th summit, after the opening ceremony and banquet hosted by Kuwait’s Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Jabir al-Sabah, did not take their seats for formal sessions. Instead, they went off to discuss their differences in quiet corners.
The absence of Saudi King Abdullah and Sultan Qaboos attested to the depth of those differences. In fact, information has reached DEBKA Weekly that the Omani ruler has informed fellow Gulf rulers that he is considering resigning from the GCC over three issues:
- He can’t understand why the Saudis were so consumed with fury over his role – over a long period, according to our sources – as a key go-between for the White House and the bureaus of Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hassan Rouhani.
- The sultan is totally opposed to the Saudi king’s proposal for a stronger union with Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, a plan which was first floated in 2011.
- After a wave of protests hit Oman in the wake of the “Arab Spring,” the Saudi royal house and Gulf emirates promised Sultan Qaboos $10 billion as funding for basic reforms to meet the protesters’ demands for better wages, more jobs and fighting corruption. The most violent disturbances took place in Sohar, the Sultanate’s most developed town located about 200 kilometers north of Muscat, the capital.
Qaboos has not seen a single dollar of the promised assistance. He now fears a new outbreak of street protest is building up in Sohar – stirred up, according to the information reaching him, by Iranian agents and agitators. He is concerned that Tehran is plotting to repeat Bahrain’s Shiite uprising in Oman.
These concerns drove Sultan Qaboos to try his hand as an honest broker between Washington and Tehran. Since Oman’s economy is weighed down by a $7 billion deficit and its ruler sees no sign of the promised GCC funding, he sees no point in his continued membership of the bloc.
Two peacemakers ready to take on Gulf disputes
The GCC summit was plagued by an additional feud when Saudi Arabia accused Qatar as well as Oman of continuing to send funds to Muslim Brotherhood militias and terrorist networks across the Middle East and North Africa, especially Syria.
At the meeting’s end, a number of resolutions were published, the most important of which was the establishment of a combined GCC military command.
On paper, it will consist of 30,000 troops. However, the force will probably remain on paper in the face of the disunity and infighting bedeviling the organization, the impending US withdrawal from the region and Iran’s military and diplomatic successes in the Gulf, Syria and Lebanon.
The only decision with any chance of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman and Qatar overcoming their differences to accept is the Kuwaiti ruler’s offer of his services as peacemaker to pour oil on their disputes.
Another would-be peacemaker is getting ready to travel to Riyadh.
He is former Iranian president Hashem Rafsanjani, a distinguished political tactician and close ally of President Hassan Rouhani. Our Iranian sources say his mission is to ease the animosity preying on relations between Riyadh and Tehran.