Our region is war-torn and fractured. We are facing multiple threats of multiple kinds. This is the most dangerous era I have ever lived through, surpassing the 1991 Gulf War when we came together to defeat a single enemy.
While almost the entire world is shining a spotlight on the so-called Islamic State, GCC States must not take their eyes off our neighborhood’s greatest threat – the Islamic Republic of Iran and its militias in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.
It saddens me to observe that some Arab countries are claiming to stand with us, whereas in reality they are either straddling the fence or are covertly in the ayatollahs’ pockets.
Putin is calling the shots in Syria as though he is that country’s leader while ingratiating himself with the world’s greatest terrorist funder, Iran.Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor
It is imperative that transparent Gulf states stick together and be very wary of fair-weather friends, especially at a moment in time when there are those doing their utmost to split us apart, scatter us in different directions to render us vulnerable.
Unfortunately, those enemies are using slick propaganda for the purposes of making us doubt one another. They speak of rifts between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates when there are none.
The relationship between the kingdom and the Emirates is based on a shared history, culture and bloodlines. It is unbreakable. The threats to Saudi Arabia are the same that threaten the UAE. Iran’s ultimate goal is to seize our territories, strip us of our natural resources and take control of the Holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Rest assured that nothing will come between these two brotherly nations – Saudi Arabia and the UAE – which have always worked as one to hoist the standards of the Muslim and Arab worlds high.
Thanks to the Saudi-led Arab coalition, which has successfully stemmed the march of Shiite Houthis across Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia, that route has been blocked. But recent news reports suggest that Iran may now be pursuing its ‘plan B’ from a different direction. As I write, highly-trained, battle hardened pro-Iranian Shiite fighters from Lebanon and Syria are heading to Iraq to further destabilise Iraq in support of their Iranian masters.
And according to a report published in Al-Quds Al-Arabi, hundreds of thousands of Iranians are crossing into Iraq via its ports without passports stamped with entry visas, ostensibly to visit Shiite holy sites. Is this mass relocation being carried out in preparation for Iran to launch a surprise? The fear is the Iranians (perhaps with a green light from Moscow) are positioning Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces, Iranian foot soldiers and Shiite militias in preparation of a terrorist attack.
Russia’s goal is to become the dominant regional power, and to further his endgame President Vladimir Putin is throwing his country’s weight behind Iran. During his meeting last month with Iran’s Supreme Leader, he presented Ali Khamenei with a replica of Russia’s oldest handwritten Quran. The commentator Jamal Khashoggi rightly notes the irony of Putin’s gesture of respect to Islam when in Iran – even as he slams the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for Islamicizing Turkey.
Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian plane has provided Russia with a pretext to go on the warpath against parties within the U.S.-led coalition, accusing several of cooperating with ISIS and other terrorists. Russia’s semi-official Pravda newspaper is being used by Moscow as a propaganda tool. Its columns are filled with direct threats against Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar for “their involvement in terrorism”! Khashoggi highlights a report in the Echo of Moscow quoting a former adviser to President Putin calling for attacks on military and oil installations in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Growing threat in Iraq
Putin, who has never recovered from the disbanding of the mighty Soviet Union, is on a roll following his illegal annexation of Crimea, a move met with little more than a slap on the wrist from the U.S. and its allies. Emboldened, Putin is calling the shots in Syria as though he is that country’s leader while ingratiating himself with the world’s greatest terrorist funder, Iran, which due to its murky affiliations has escaped becoming a target of terrorism. Of course, even terrorists do not bite the hand that feeds them!
Far from providing geopolitical balance in the area, President Barack Obama’s policy of leading from behind has left a void, permitting Russia to fill in as a dangerous aggressor that is not only hand-in-glove with Iran but one with knives out for Sunni Arab states.
As I have warned again and again in my columns, we must remain alert and prepared for anything. That does not mean we should merely wait and watch. No, the snakes’ heads must be cut before they slither to nest on our own soil. We were burned by the overthrow of the elected government in Yemen by the emissaries of Tehran, and if we do not stem the growing threat in Iraq, we will have only ourselves to blame.
Strengthen the coalition
In order to defend our borders, our coalition must be strengthened and enlarged. If we imagine we can place our trust in global powers, which strove to empower and enrich Iran via a nuclear deal, we are mistaken because they are driven solely by self-interest. And neither can we rely on other Arab countries to defend us for two reasons.
Firstly, those far away from Iran’s reach by reasons of geography have different priorities; theirs is to eviscerate ISIS. Secondly, there are countries suspected of harboring Iranian or Russian sympathies (or both) which must be weeded out or, at the very least, told to come clean on their loyalties. Our destiny cannot rest with fence-sitters or pretend friends. It is time for all to be open about their allegiances and interests.
The only significant forces in the GCC are those of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. We are the shield and the sword of all Gulf states and we are ready to partner with Arab countries proven to be on the same page. It is time for all regional leaderships to be transparent, and those suspected of playing both sides or of hiding their true intentions should be banished behind a virtual Trump-style wall.
Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books. Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.