Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Oman are reportedly forming a joint naval force, as the Qatari news website Al-Jadid reported on June 2.
According to Al-Jadid, China was the one that acted as a facilitator during the conversations that took place between the four countries to ensure the safety of navigation in the Persian Gulf.
Positive relations have been maintained with both the Islamic Republic and the United Arab Emirates by the Sultanate of Oman, which is a member of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) along with Saudi Arabia. Other members of the GCC include the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
According to the website of the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on May 31, UAE withdrew from the United States-led Joint Maritime Forces operating in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.
According to the release, the United Arab Emirates is committed to promoting dialogue and other diplomatic means to achieve regional security and stability. It further states that UAE withdrew its participation in the Joint Maritime Forces two months ago due to ongoing assessments of the efficiency of security cooperation with all its partners.
In addition, the MUAE is still dedicated to safeguarding the safety of navigation in its seas following international law. The ministry has labelled as “fake” the interpretation of the maritime security negotiations between UAE and the United States that has been presented in the media. To ensure the safety of shipping and to fight piracy in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, the Joint Maritime Forces are comprised of 34 different states in addition to the United States Fifth Fleet.
It’s not a new idea
In October 2014, the monarchies located in the Persian Gulf discussed the possibility of forming a unified Navy to maintain the security of oil supplies sent to the West. The crucial Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which links the Gulf of Aden to the Mediterranean Sea, was in danger of being blocked by Shiite militants fighting in Yemen. A joint navy would have also strengthened the control over another section of the oil export route in the Strait of Hormuz, which Tehran had repeatedly threatened to block.
Major General Ahmed al-Mulla, who served as the Assistant Minister of Defence for the State of Kuwait, revealed that the Persian Gulf’s Sunni monarchies were negotiating over building a joint navy. The idea was addressed at the marine and coastal security conference that Qatar has historically sponsored, which took place in Doha. The Kuwaiti defence department’s representative stated that the GCC countries’ unified fleet would become a part of the united armed forces “Shield of the Peninsula,” established in 1982 by the Arabian monarchies. The GCC countries include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.
The timeline for the creation of a joint fleet and a unified naval command has not yet been determined, but member states of the GCC are already holding meetings to discuss technical matters, according to Majid Abdel-Aziz al-Turki, who served at the time as an advisor to Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Islamic Affairs and Diplomacy. There have been reports in the media indicating that the establishment of common marine brigades could take many months. He elucidated that Riyadh would contribute the most to the implementation of the project but that other GCC countries would also play a role, provided that it was practicable for them to do so. Officials from the council have stated that the unified fleet’s primary focus will be combating terrorism and reducing or eliminating any hindrance to the free passage of ships.
The need to establish a common fleet was necessitated by the expanding threat to the security of oil transit, most of which was conducted by sea by the Arabian monarchies. In the same month, the most vital portion of the route, the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb, which connects the Gulf of Aden and the Mediterranean Sea and through which the countries of the peninsula exported approximately 4 million barrels of oil per day, was threatened. Amid a severe political crisis in Yemen, the radical group Ansarullah, composed primarily of members of the Shiite al-Houthi tribe, captured the strategic port of Hodeida on the Arabian Peninsula close to Bab el-Mandeb.
The oil exports of the Sunni monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula have suffered a double setback due to Iran’s control of the strategically significant Strait of Hormuz, through which approximately 17 million barrels of oil are transported daily. Tehran has repeatedly threatened Saudi Arabia and its allies with a blockade of the strait, which supplied about 20% of the world’s crude.
Bab el-Mandeb and the Red Sea transported less cargo than the Strait of Hormuz because the Suez Canal was too narrow for the supertankers used by Arabian Peninsula nations to transport their oil. However, it also has considerable strategic significance. Neither Saudi Arabia nor its allies were pleased with the prospect of being barred from both channels.
Iran was the primary strategic concern of the GCC states at the time. On the Arabian Peninsula, it operated through Bahraini and Yemeni Shiites. Majid Abdelaziz al-Turki hinted to Kommersant that at the same time, the forces of Peninsula Shield are prepared to launch an operation analogous to the 2011 suppression of the Shiite uprising in Bahrain at any moment, if necessary.
The initiative of the GCC was also motivated by the fact that in 2014, the Arabian monarchies were less confident in their support for the United States. According to Gulf News, the enhancement of cooperation between GCC nations and the United States, whose fleet has been stationed in the waters of Bahrain since 1995, was the second most important topic discussed in the capital of Qatar. After the GCC countries proclaimed in the 34th Summit (held in Kuwait City on December 10-11, 2013) the creation of a unified military command and an increase from 30,000 to 100,000 in the self-defence forces of the peninsula, US President Barack Obama ordered the sale of arms to these states under a simplified regime.