The nine-point statement issued at the conclusion of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) emergency summit summarized the discussions that took place prior to and at the summit, which was held in Makkah last Thursday. The summit was prompted by the attacks Iran carried out against Saudi Arabia and the UAE last month.
The response in the GCC summit was mild, despite the brazen and unprovoked nature of the attacks and their potentially grave repercussions on regional peace and stability, oil markets and the world economy.
It is therefore surprising that this measured and defensive response appears to have disturbed officials in Tehran, despite the fact it was they who precipitated the crisis.
The summit condemned the two drone attacks by the Iran-allied Houthi militias against the strategic East-West oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia. The summit communique disclosed that the Houthis have launched more than 225 ballistic missiles and 155 drones against civilian targets in the country.
The GCC also condemned the attacks on four oil tankers in UAE territorial waters. It considers these attacks to be a “grave escalation, which threatens the security and safety of maritime navigation” and “negatively impacts stability of oil markets, as well as regional and international peace and security.”
In the face of these attacks, the GCC naturally reaffirmed its solidarity with the UAE and Saudi Arabia and support for “all measures and procedures” they take to safeguard their “security, stability and territorial integrity.” It also called on the international community and international maritime organizations to shoulder their responsibility to prevent future attacks.
The next theme in the GCC summit was invoking prior commitments enshrined in the GCC Charter and Mutual Defense Treaty. It stressed the need for GCC cohesion and unity in the face of the current threats.
More specifically, the summit discussed GCC defense policy, which is based on the principle of “integrated collective security.” Article 2 of the Mutual Defense Treaty, concluded in December 2000, states that “any aggression against one member state is an aggression on all member states, and any threat against one is a threat against all.” Article 3, citing the right of self-defense of states individually and collectively as enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter, stipulates that “GCC member states commit to promptly provide the help needed by another member state if attacked, and take all necessary measures, including military force, to reverse the aggression.”
The summit’s joint communique was thus stating the obvious by invoking the mutual defense principles that are at the heart of the GCC security doctrine. GCC military integration has reached a fairly high level of sophistication, especially after completing the “unified military command” structure last November with the appointment of a general commander for the first time in its history. Military integration covers all military services — land, air and naval forces. They have developed regular training exercises and high levels of interoperability. The newly appointed general commander’s work is overseen by the Supreme Military Committee of the joint chiefs of staff, which meets regularly to assess threats, agree on responses and give mandates to the integrated command structures.
It was important for the summit to recall those arrangements, which have been agreed to and developed over the past four decades. They are all defensive in nature and coordinate closely with GCC allies and partners.
The GCC also extended a diplomatic hand to Iran. It called on Tehran to spare the region more strife by adhering to international law and rules regarding freedom of navigation and international waterways.
The GCC restated its message to Iran, previously delivered in writing to its leadership, on the need to commit to the principles of international law and the UN Charter, which include respect of neighbors’ sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity. That also means refraining from the use or threat of force, and non-interference in internal affairs.
In the regional context in particular, the GCC called on Iran to listen to the logic of reason by refraining from supporting terrorist groups and sectarian militias.
The GCC also called for stronger regimes to monitor Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Recalling the GCC-US Strategic Partnership and US bilateral agreements with individual member states, the GCC summit lauded the level of cooperation with Washington, which is intended to preserve regional security and stability. It reaffirmed its support for the US strategy toward Iran and particularly commended the recent measures taken in this regard. The US has adopted measures designed not to change the regime, but to bring Iran to the negotiating table to discuss its nuclear and ballistic missiles, its destabilizing activities throughout the region, and its support for terrorism, including its active support for Hezbollah, the Houthis of Yemen, and other violent sectarian-based groups.
Finally, the GCC summit restressed the members’ commitment to promoting global economic growth and the stability of energy markets, both of which have been threatened by Iran’s recent attacks on maritime shipping and oil installations.
Contrary to expectations, then, the GCC’s response to Iran’s blatant provocations was mild and focused on bolstering defense and diplomacy. Thus, it was rather odd that its meeting and the statement it issued afterwards was met with more provocative threats by Iran. Not just the usual belligerent mouthing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its proxies such as Hezbollah and the Houthis, but officials close to the supreme leader also joined the fray. Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, a senior military adviser to Ali Khamenei, said on Sunday that the US has “more than 25 military bases in the region and 20,000 troops, all of which are within the range of Iran’s missiles. The entire US fleet in the Gulf is within the range of the Sahel-Bahr missile operated by the IRGC naval forces. Their range of 300 kilometers reaches the coasts of neighboring countries as well.”
Other than perfunctory and conditional platitudes on peace and negotiations by President Hassan Rouhani and his foreign minister, the message from Iran is clear: That it has no interest in negotiations at the present time.