Over the past few days, it has been said that Gulf countries had to put their disputes aside out of fear of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Has this terrorist organization’s threat reached the extent that it is capable of ending the Gulf’s disputes? Also, is ISIS really capable of toppling Gulf capitals?
Of course, no one will believe this story unless they are distant from the region, or a resident who is clueless about the details of political developments. Geographically speaking, this is impossible unless ISIS has an air force and this is also not possible. The city of Ramadi – in Iraq’s Anbar province, which is close to Saudi Arabia’s borders - is the closest ISIS stronghold to the Gulf. Kuwait is the closest Gulf capital to Ramadi and despite this, the distance is still huge – it is more than 760 kilometers, most of which is barren desert. The Saudi capital is almost twice as far as it is more than 1,400 kilometers away from Ramadi.
The arrival of ISIS, via land, in the capitals of Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman is impossible no matter how strong, speedy and well- armed the organization is!
ISIS fighters, traveling in armed vehicles, have crossed from Syria into the Iraqi city of Mosul via the Qaim border crossing, because of the short distance, the chaos in Syria and the security vacuum in Iraq, which was the result of the central government’s weakness in Baghdad.
Therefore, arguing that Gulf governments put their disputes aside out of fear of ISIS is an exaggerated claim. Logic, however, dictates that Gulf governments must end their disputes for many good reasons; the specter of ISIS, however, is not among those reasons.
When Gulf countries agree, they become a strong powerhouse, but when they disagree, they fight in other parties’ arenasAbdulrahman al-Rashed
The paradox is that the concerns of Gulf states are also their assets. They are similar to each other in three areas: financial influence, strong relations with the West and political stability. Instead of directing these common assets towards similar objectives to benefit the people of the region in general, and the people of the Gulf in particular, there has been an increase in proxy “wars” on which billions of dollars were spent. These wars will eventually lead to collective damage as no one will gain anything from them. Those assets were used in buying international military, legal, media, political and commercial services as part of a “cold war” among the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. This reflects a state of political absurdity, the likes of which the region has not seen before!
A strong powerhouse
When Gulf countries agree, they become a strong powerhouse, but when they disagree, they fight in other parties’ arenas. A particular incident when Gulf countries cooperated was when they decided to support Bahrain during its ordeal in 2011. At the time, there were fears that the smallest Gulf country, which faced the most sensitive situation on the sectarian level, may collapse as a result of Iran’s and other parties’ interferences. The Gulf Cooperation Council succeeded in saving Bahrain, both internationally and domestically, and it also succeeded in preventing chaos and an extended state of war.
The concern over the Gulf comes from the concern about the actions of its people, not about ISIS. Terrorism poses a direct threat to the Iraqi and Syrian regimes because it grows and expands where it finds chaos and security vacuum – just as we have seen in Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen. Gulf countries are protected against ISIS, just as they were against al-Qaeda in the past. This is not to deny that the threat of armed extremist groups to Gulf stability and their aim to shake the internal order and harm the Gulf authorities and embarrass them internationally.
The Gulf countries’ current crisis is that they fight amongst one another over a vast geographic area, stretching from Syria to Mauritania. Even if one Gulf country emerges victorious over another, it’s still a worthless victory because Gulf countries are not global superpowers which can turn these victories into areas of influence or interests. They cannot even maintain their gains for long – like what happened to Qatar in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria and to Saudi Arabia in Syria and Yemen.
It’s an expensive videogame that offers no real reward except for Saudi Arabia as it has to protect its borders with Iraq and Yemen, and it needs to support Egypt because chaos there may directly harm the kingdom. In general, ending negative Gulf competition falls in everyone’s favor but claiming that reconciliation has occurred out of fear of ISIS is an unrealistic interpretation.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on September 2, 2014.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.