By Nader Uskowi
Recently I wrote a post titled “Saudi Call to Arms.” The subject was Saudi prince Turki Al-Faisal’s call on Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states to transform GCC into an EU-type union, with unified armed forces and its own nuclear weapons. I argued that Prince Turki’s call should be taken seriously, as serious and thoughtful as he has always been. Since Turki’s speech, the GCC has in a dazzlingly rapid pace showcased a newly found willingness to actively intervene in the events affecting the region.
Today, Qatari Mirage and F-16 jets are actively engaged in the Libyan conflict. Qatar has recognized the rebel government and has started importing oil directly from the rebel-held territories. Kuwait is expected soon to likewise recognize the rebels as the legitimate government of Libya. In Bahrain, Saudi troops and UAE security forces have entered Manama to quell people’s movement and to preserve the ruling royal family. In its latest session, the GCC blasted Iran’s “flagrant interference” in the region. Iran, on its part, called GCC’s actions the result of “Western and Zionist” conspiracies.
Suddenly, the GCC has found a new voice and is putting its money where its mouth is. This is a far cry from the six-nation union that preferred to remain behind the scene. A new GCC is creating new dynamics in the Persian Gulf, and is putting everyone, and especially Iran, on notice.
“The (GCC) will no longer be passive observer but active participant in regional events,” said Mishaal al-Gargawi, a leading political commentator in Dubai. “It is putting pressure on Iran by saying, the game has changed and we are here and the balance of power is different now.”
A Kuwaiti commentator, Nasser al-Mutairi, said the GCC member states must move beyond “routine protocol statements” and challenge Iran directly.
The move is full of risks, however. Hostility between the GCC and Iran can turn into an ugly sectarian conflict; something neither side can afford. Iraqi premier Al-Maliki raised the red flag this week by warning about that very possibility. But it is becoming increasingly clear that GCC’s hard line toward Iran, backed by readiness to use force in the region, is the new normal for the Persian Gulf.