By a quirk of geographical circumstance, all the six Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries sit on the same side of the seaboard and their stretch squarely faces the Iranian landmass across the Arabian Gulf. Kuwait is at one end, and the Sultanate of Oman at the other.
The six nations have everything in common from religion, language and culture to oil wealth, forms of government, ambition for public welfare and desire to create first-class infrastructure. Even each country’s currency is freely used and accepted by other countries traders as a matter of course. Their anxieties, fears, defence strategies and economic plans too are interlinked.
It is not surprising therefore that a retired senior naval officer has called for a unified Gulf naval force which would offer a stronger defence system than disparate naval units of the GCC member states. The occasion was the three-day Offshore Patrol Vessels Middle East event held in Bahrain last week.
On the occasion, former United Arab Emirates Navy naval staff chief Rear Admiral Ahmed Al Sabab Al Teneji was quoted by the Bahrain daily GDN as urging GCC states to acquire multi-purpose ships that could be used for both maritime patrolling and offensive and defensive operations. He even suggested the creation of a unified maintenance organization in the Arabian Gulf for such vessels. Teneji, who chaired the event, even called for a unified GCC navy because “We are small with limited resources, which means we should unify our systems.”
While the navies of the US and the UK do play a role in the Arabian Gulf, they are largely looking to contain the real or supposed threats emanating from Iran, whereas the individual and collective challenges of the GCC states in terms of maritime security have manifold dimensions ranging from those arising from the movement of logistical support to terrorist groups in the region to pollution risks to marine life.
In addition, while the Somali pirates were a menace on the high seas in the past, logistical support for the Houthis in Yemen by Iran or to other terrorist groups is an issue on hand that needs to be constantly watched. “Our mission is to cut the line of communication and the logistical support to such activities,” Teneji was quoted as saying.
Also to be watched are the Iranian Revolutionary Guard elements attacking fishermen or committing piracy. And pollution is another threat since all the GCC states have to rely on desalination plants with the process increasing the saltiness of the sea and thus adversely affecting marine life.
While one way to handle all these issues, extending across and often overlapping the littoral boundaries of each of the six Arab states, would be to coordinate and exchange expertise, information and security inputs, it certainly makes sense to overcome the six-fold coordination by having one single mammoth naval force manned by the officers and men of all the six states and run with contributions from everyone.