Theresa May brings back Thatcher era to the Gulf

During the GCC summit, British PM said that Britain and the Gulf region face the dangers of Iranian threats

Turki Aldakhil

Published: Updated:

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, all eyes were on the international community and how it will react to the invasion. They depended on the American stance and there were long debates at the Arab League after seeking the help of friendly international powers.

History is witness to the stance taken by the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. She promised Saudi King Fahd to help liberate Kuwait and effectively contributed to convince the US to launch the war. This was the most significant positive intervention by Britain in the Gulf since decades.

During the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit, held in Bahrain recently, the British returned to a regional forum after a long time. Making some exceptional and historic statements, Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed that Britain and the Gulf region face the dangers of Iranian threats adding that the Gulf’s security is Britain’s security.

Some tried to dismiss these statements and equated it due to volatile statements made by British foreign secretary Boris Johnson. However, he quickly adopted May’s rhetoric during the press conference he recently held alongside Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir and said that relations between Saudi Arabia and Britain are not limited to commerce and security as the two countries had enjoyed a long strategic relationship extending over 100 years.

Johnson added that Iranian threats in the region worry Britain just like they worry Saudi Arabia. Johnson also said that Britain is worried about Saudi Arabia being targeting from Yemen with ballistic missiles.

Gulf countries understand terrorism, its trends and developments more and they are more capable of gathering information and examining and monitoring threats

Turki Aldakhil

Strength of relations

Gulf-British relations are distinguished for their strength, depth and solidity. Britain has contributed toward building and establishing the civil form of Gulf countries. Until the early 1990’s, it helped them through the phase of making the transition until they stood on their feet and oil began to yield revenues.

The political path thus matured and guaranteed Gulf countries’ stability and prosperity for long years. Cooperation between Gulf states and Britain continued on all levels, and proof to that is the military cooperation which has been on ever since these states were established.

Britain may have somehow been influenced by the American weakness during Barack Obama’s term and his policy of retreat in the region. However, interests intersected in quite a strong manner during May’s term as prime minister as Britain needs an economic partner it trusts to compensate for the repercussions of the absence of the European Union after voting to exit from it. Gulf countries are the most suitable for this role.

Despite Thatcher’s and May’s different approaches and legacies, the statements on the Gulf resemble a comeback after a period of abandonment and cold relations. There have been interesting statements such as: “We are willing to cooperate to confront Iran in Syria, Yemen and the Gulf, Saudi Vision 2030 is useful to all of us and we have aspirations for strong commercial relations with the Gulf, we are achieving great progress in the war against ISIS”.

The following statements were also made: “We will pursue all forms of terrorism that threaten the region’s stability, the Gulf’s stability is the entire world’s stability and we will spend more than 3 billion British pounds in the Gulf and the world to confront challenges. Saudi Arabia helped Britain and provided it with intelligence information that saved thousands of people. Gulf security is our security. We are here to communicate with new allies and I would like to open a new chapter of strategic cooperation among our people.”

Iran’s reaction

Iran’s reaction to these statements were fiery as it has hinted at the possibility of controlling Gulf waters, threatened to close straits and vowed harsh reactions against Britain and Gulf countries. Whosoever following the developments can see the mutual challenges confronting Britain and the Gulf.

Britain needs to increase commercial trade with the Gulf after it lost its influence in India. This explains Britain’s recent approach toward India. There is also the security aspect after the refugees’ influx as many violent people infiltrate these refugees like what happened in Germany.

The Gulf’s experience with terrorism is far more than the Europeans’ due to geographic and cultural considerations. Gulf countries understand terrorism, its trends and developments more and they are more capable of gathering information and examining and monitoring threats.

This revival of British interest in the region encourages building of stronger alliances to confront Sunni extremism as represented by ISIS and Shiite extremism as represented by Iran and its armed militias which are spread across Arab territories.

Theresa May said it: “For if we work together, it is also an unparalleled opportunity to show that we understand the scale of the change people need.”

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Dec. 13, 2016.
Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and Alarabiya.net, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies. He tweets @TurkiAldakhil.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.