Changes are afoot in security alliances in the Near East. Egypt, Saudi, UAE and Jordan appear to be forming a new regional security group. At the same time, Qatar, Iran, and Turkey are establishing another alliance. The ramifications on the GCCs future are enormous as Oman may join the Qatar group. What can we expect from these new alliances? What are the impacts on Syria and the Iranian negotiations? Where will Western states, Russia, and China fit into the new regional security dynamic?
Will the Shanghai Cooperation Organization find itself expanding to the Gulf via Iran? Will there be more trouble ahead or will these alliances clash on the political level and through proxies?
The ties between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE signal a grouping that agrees on the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) as the major threat to their stability. Jordan, Kuwait, and Morocco are likely to be part of this emerging security group to provide monarchal protection and stability across the region against the Muslim Brotherhood threat. Shuttle diplomatic and military missions are increasing between all states.
Arms sales to Egypt are paramount to Cairo and the topic was even brought up between U.S. President Barak Obama and his Saudi interlocutors during the recent summit meeting last week in Riyadh. According to Arab officials, a high ranking Egyptian official met with the Americans to re-start the full package of arms and military support from the United States that were cut off in the wake of the Mursi’s ouster. The Egyptians, along with the Saudis, want the full U.S. package reinstated or else “they will go to the Russians for their defense requirements.”
The ties between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE signal a grouping that agrees on the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) as the major threat to their stabilityDr. Theodore Karasik
The three countries are also coordinating military exercises and the scenarios being practice involve protection of urban areas which can be applicable across the region. There is talk that, in the future, the security group may use its prowess to “absorb” Qatar if Doha does not change its support of the Muslim Brotherhood. This idea, although far-fetched, is a heated topic of discussion amongst key anti-Ikhwan states over the past week. Overall, we should not discount such a move in the future as many geopolitical events once thought unthinkable are becoming reality.
Qatar, Iran, and Turkey are another emerging grouping based on mutual security considerations. Ever since the isolation of Qatar in the GCC by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE is forcing Doha to find security solutions with Iran and Turkey because of their pro-Brotherhood outlook. Although not as formalized as the Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE move towards regional security, there is evidence of a closer alignment on security policy. Oman, under the current Sultan Qaboos, is likely to find itself part of this configuration. According to Arab officials, Oman wants to form a regional grouping that would include Iran and Iraq. Turkey and Qatar would likely be welcomed members of such an entity.
The only problem with such an arrangement is Syria. Of course, Iran and Syria are engaged in a security arrangement. Qatar’s Emir Tamim is reported to be reaching out to Assad to work with Damascus to calm the situation and even going so far as offering to rebuild the state. One could speculate that Qatar’s real goal in Syria is empowering the Muslim Brotherhood sometime in the future evolution of a new Syrian state. The wide-card is Turkey who is undergoing a transformation brought on by internal discord with the AKP and the Gullenists plus other groups. Once settled, Ankara may be more pro-active in its cooperation with these other countries.
The eruption of this division within the region, unthinkable just a few months ago, is an issue with great implications for geopolitical relationships outside of the GCC littoral. The issue is so serious that the British are now investigating the Ikhwan in the UK for possible terrorist connections and potential planning for revenge attacks on Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.
Given that London is the largest center of Muslim Brotherhood activity outside of the MENA, any attempt or successful attack on a Middle East state would produce dramatic security implications possibly kicking the British out from from current and future procurement deals and damaging economic linkages. The message seems clear: do not underestimate the resolve of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE during these difficult times.
There is also the position of Russia, China and the rest of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The member states, if acting under the umbrella of the SCO, are likely to support the Qatar-Iran-Turkish axis over a number of key issues including the future of Syria. Once sanctions begin to be lifted against Iran, Tehran will be able to join the SCO as a full member and not just as an observer state.
That event will allow the SCO to bring its interests to the Iranian shores of the Arabian Gulf. Thus, two new security architectures for the Gulf littoral seems to be in a nascent state of development between various camps. Simultaneously, the United States finds itself in a quandary as its key Arab Gulf allies are divided while at the same time Washington and other European capitals are trying to come to an agreement with Iran on Tehran’s nuclear energy program. Perhaps the emergence of these alternative security architectures are the most challenging and dramatic event yet since 2011 that will resonate for years to come, challenging all parties and rearranging the regional chessboard.
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.