Over the past few days, the positions and activities of the GCC and Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon are becoming clearer against ISIS. The group, which met in Jeddah on Sept. 11, can now be dubbed the GCC+4. They are seeking to help America’s coalition fight ISIS. In the wake of the meeting, Turkey is not included in the GCC-led group because of Ankara’s own internal problems and relations with other GCC states according to a Turkish official. Ankara did not even sign the formal communiqué at the end of the Jeddah meeting.
The communiqué from the Jeddah meeting stated the roles of the GCC+4 along with America regarding the campaign against ISIS. The communiqué stated that all are “to stand united against the threat posed by all terrorism, including the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), to the region and the world.” The U.S. and the GCC+4 discussed basing and over-flight rights for coalition members confronting ISIS. The U.S.’s European allies who will be part of the air campaign—to include France but not Britain—will be using America’s airbases in Qatar as well as in Jordan for strikes against ISIS’s assets.
An Arab official stated that this part of the communiqué is in reference not only to ISIS but to other Islamists who are fighting in other parts of the MENA region. Indeed, the GCC+4 is turning into a pan-regional Arab security organization intent on stamping out extremism across the region—to include Libya, Sinai, Yemen and other hotspots. Militarily, the message is clear: We are coming to get you on multiple levels.
A day before the meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia agreed to an American request to provide a base to train moderate Syrian opposition fighters. A senior Obama administration official stated that “We now have the commitment from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to be a full partner in this effort — the train-and-equip program — to host that program,” who added that discussions were underway to determine the specific site and other details. According to an Arab official, this training program will involve up to 10,000 fighters for the Syrian theater. This program raises a few questions. First, exactly how will these 10,000 fighters be vetted? Are these individuals the same Syrian Free Army trainees—numbering near 2000—who went through training programs in Jordan? How long will the training program take? Estimates are that the training program in Saudi Arabia will take at least eight months. These fighters for the Syrian theater may be needed much sooner than that for a successful coalition effort. Nevertheless, the program is important. In addition, there are other areas of MENA such as Libya where there is likely to be further GCC action against extremists particularly Libya where action has already be seen. This activity may take the form of airstrikes and special operators on the ground.
Gone, for now, are the outright disagreements with AmericaDr. Theodore Karasik
The communiqué also hailed the new Iraqi government and to help Baghdad to combat ISIS. Significantly, this statement means that the GCC itself is supportive of Baghdad because only Iraq can fight ISIS on the ground within the country’s boundaries. This development is a big reversal from the previous Maliki government. Importantly, a Sunni bloc is beginning to solidify.
Probably the most important points of the communiqué is that the signatories agreed “to stop the flow of foreign fighters through neighboring countries, countering financing of ISIS and other violent extremists, repudiating their hateful ideology, ending impunity and bringing perpetrators to justice, contributing to humanitarian relief efforts, assisting with the reconstruction and rehabilitation of communities brutalized by ISIS, supporting states that face the most acute ISIS threat, and, as appropriate, joining in the many aspects of a coordinated military campaign against ISIS.” These wide-ranging findings need further examination.
First, the GCC+4 is to develop a multi-prong approach to soft power options to break ISIS’s logistical chains in manpower and finance as well as to develop counter-narratives to negate the group’s capabilities and messaging. Stronger border controls around ISIS are in the planning process, key funders are being targeted and to be arrested or at least harassed into submission to the law, and an information campaign is being developed to debunk ISIS’s perversion of Islam including that of other extremists such as al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. The GCC+4 seek to enlist clerics and opinion-shapers to neuter ISIS’s social media campaign with more than just denouncements, but with well thought out arguments up to and including the issue of several fatwa throughout the course of operations. A united stand by the moderate Sunni community is a key aspect that is required to begin now.
A counter-narrative campaign is critical for the region’s future which is now poisoned by ISIS’s vision and other extremist groups. These measures include a sophisticated hearts and minds campaign consisting of a combination of state-sponsored education programs, coordination of public relations and media efforts, and the deployment of the government religious resources. The centerpiece of the strategy is to “repent and abandon terrorist ideologies.”
Second, the GCC+4 is to coordinate the appropriate humanitarian response both in the airlift of goods as well as the funding necessary to reverse the destruction brought upon Iraq and Syria by ISIS. According to an Arab official, the GCC states, in coordination with the other 4 states of the bloc, will be synchronizing with international humanitarian aid organizations to bring relief to the refugees from ISIS’s forward advances but also to help rebuild the lives of these victims. Some Gulf States are well versed in humanitarian aid programs and delivery already. In other words, this humanitarian campaign plus rebuilding effort is to be akin to the Marshall Plan in the wake of the end of World War II. This project will be, in theory, unparalleled in the MENA region.
Out with the old
Overall, the GCC+4 communiqué based on the meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Kerry opens a new chapter in America’s cooperation with key Middle East states. Gone, for now, are the outright disagreements with America. The Obama Administration is finally doing something about the Levant instead of constantly retreating. But there are still many unknowns about how the coming months—and years—will unfold.
Specifically, one misstep by the United States in leading the coalition against ISIS will quickly erase the goodwill witnessed over the past week. In addition, there is another important aspect: While the U.S. and allies use military power in the Levant, the GCC and Egypt are likely to focus any military assets and counter narrative campaigns to all parts of MENA. In other words, from the core of the GCC looking outwards, North Africa and explicitly Libya, are a second front in a two front war for the future of the MENA region.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.