An opportunity to defeat terrorism from GCC Perspective

On 29 January 2017, the former Mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani addressed fox news, within the scope of his position as head of the commission who wrote Trump’s executive action to ban the citizens of seven countries from entering the United States of America. What Giuliani divulged in the interview sheds a great amount of light on President Trump’s perception and approach towards the issues relating to the Middle East, in addition to how he plans to liaise with the U.S.A.’s strategic allies in the region. When asked why the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not on the list, Giuliani explains, “Saudi Arabia is going through a massive change. I think that the Kingdom, particularly under the new Prince, has a real understanding that we are dealing with a massive radical Islamic terrorist problem; it is not the old Saudi Arabia of 2000, 2001, and 2002. President Trump is dealing with a new Saudi Arabia … with a much closer tie with us, if we know how to use it correctly”.

G hereiuliani here refers to multiple facts to be highlighted about Saudi Arabia and the region. First of all, having provided the seeding capital of USD 10 million for the establishment of the United Nations Counterterrorism Centre (UNCCT) in 2011, Saudi Arabia is identified as a primary party of support for the cause against terrorism. Then in 2014, it further injected an additional USD 100 million into the center, inviting other members to match its support. Meanwhile and more importantly, it must be noted that Saudi Arabia, along with GCC countries, are themselves targets of terrorism; making them equally, if not more vulnerable to the threat of organized terrorism.

According to Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry Spokesperson, Mansour Al Turki, over a 128 terror attacks targeted KSA in the last 15 years, resulting in the death or injury of 1,147 Saudis, foreigners and policemen (Gulf News). Saudi Arabia is of course not the only country in the region to have suffered terrorism activity on its ground. On the 14th of August 2015, Kuwaiti authorities discovered a terrorist cell and a residence near the Iraqi border, containing a substantially large storage of smuggled arms and explosives. This discovery resulted after a search, which was instigated by an attack on a mosque in Kuwait, killing 27 people and injuring 227 ( AlSeyassah and AlAnba, among other local newspapers, linked the terrorist cells to Hezbollah and other Iranian backed militant groups, according to government sources. Meanwhile, these incidents of terrorism have increased across the region in recent years; where on the 11th of January 2017, the Washington Institute published a paper authored by Matthew Levitt and Michael Knights, particularly describing increased terror activity in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The paper took to citing terrorist operations in Bahrain, such as the discoveries of bomb-making facilities stocking C4, RDX and TNT explosives in both June of 2015 and December of 2016, and a most recent prison break, which took place on January 1st of 2017, leading to the escape of 10 convicted terrorists. The paper went on to link the escalation of terror to Iran’s steadfast support of militant cells in Bahrain and the region. While it is to be noted that the prison break incident was reported through Iranian funded media channels, such as Ahlulbayt, as a “success” and “victory for the oppressed”.

Hence, according to the position of the GCC countries with regards to terrorism, the former Mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani, as per his above statement, recognizes the region as an ally to the USA. However, the Arab region is not to be considered as only a friend to the USA and UK as well, but as a valuable partner, where should they combine their efforts, their roles would be mutually indispensable for the defeat of terrorism.

This is even more so the case, since the major source of terrorism threatening the Middle East, as above noted, is the active support of Iran to radical non-state actors, where it aims to inject its power and gain influence in the region. This is achieved through multiple means, either in forming or supporting terrorist groups and militias, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Al Quds Force and Badr organization in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen. The support provided is ranging from financial aid, to the facilitation of military training for radical Shia militias from Bahrain and the Sunni Islamic organization of Hamas in Palestine, in addition to harboring fugitives from AlQaeda senior members on Iran’s soil, while aiding them with logistical support and assistance in crossing Iran borders from Afghanistan to Iraq and Syria.

Iran’s motive in this context is not only for an imperial form of expansion, rather it stems from its constitution to export its version of Islamic revolution to the rest of the world. According to Iran’s constitution, one of its primary aims is to “support those who are oppressed against the oppressors in every corner of the globe”; of course the definition of who are the ‘oppressed’ and ‘oppressors’ in this case is skewed and specifically biased in favor of those who share the radical outlooks of the Iranian government. In fact, the preamble of articles 11, 154 of Iran’s constitution distinctly state that the nation is directed towards “doing everything possible to ensure the continuity of Iran’s revolution both at home and abroad”, and “to strive with other Islamic and popular movements to pave the way for the formation of a single world community”. Therefore, this clearly goes to prove that the Middle East region, within it the Arab Gulf countries, is facing state sponsored terrorism; meaning that this particular strand of terrorism is steadfast, organized, and sufficiently fueled to achieve influence and expansion where the military and intelligence efforts of a single government cannot contain nor eradicate the direct and collateral threats.

While the US government is considered superior in military prowess, this should not downplay the role of Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf nations in their capacity as partners and allies in the fight against terrorism. For one, the region has experienced an increase in terror activity in the past decade, having as such built its intelligence and tactic for mobilization to counter the threats; therefore now owning integral and valuable insight into the operations of active radical groups. This is evident through the Saudi led coalition mobilized in Yemen supporting the internationally recognized government of Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi, against both the Iranian backed militias of the Houthis, and the expanding dominance of AlQaeda who had taken advantage of the ongoing civil war in Yemen caused by the Houthis. In this particular militant confrontation, UAE forces defeated AlQaeda in the city of Mukallah, which is a strategic and central holding base for AlQaeda Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) operations. The coalition forces managed to defeat AlQaeda in a matter of days by applying what should be used as a textbook strategy on how to run a successful operation against terrorist groups in the Middle East. This includes tactical training of the local tribes, involving and educating them in military operations, while supplying them with the necessary means in order to hold and safeguard the liberated territories.

This is further noted and supplemented by the former deputy director of the CIA, Michael Morell, in his article written in May 2016 in the Politico, titled The Giant Al Qaeda Defeat That No One’s Talking About, where he confirms that “degrading AQAP was in the interests of the Saudis and the Emiratis. The two countries are the primary targets of AQAP in the region. But the degradation of the group is also in the national security interests of the United States since the homeland remains target No. 1 for AQAP outside the region.” Morell goes on to validate the significance of the Saudi and Emirati operations, specifically as a model approach in taking the fight to the enemy within their holding territory, and defeating them in their own grounds; adding to this, “it is the kind of action that the United States should support—both with tangible assistance and public statements… and fighting ourselves where necessary”.

Therefore, the West would benefit to perceive Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab States as strategic militant and intelligence allies against terrorism. It is when policy makers from both the West and the Middle East share this view, that the correct approach to abolishing terrorism will be translated into policies.

Such policies should start with establishing a strong and targeted alliance between states, where the sovereignty of each is respected. The alliance would need to focus on standing strong against organized terror regimes, while combining the influence and resources of each nation.  Policies ought also move for tactics to weaken the sources of funding for terrorism, cripple training operations, and aim to abolish the roots and circumstances fueling radical ideologies.

Meanwhile any state that uses terror groups as a tool to achieve their own foreign policy objectives, or ones who negotiate with terrorists, regardless of the means, must be placed under close scrutiny and treated as aiding terror. As regardless of any gain that may be perceived from dealing with terror groups, in any form other than intention for termination, it directly increases their power and territorial hold.  Only in the case of an alliance and appropriated international policies will the fight against terror have a chance for fruition with an intact, long term, and prospering affect.

Bassam Al BinMohamed
Bassam Al BinMohamed
Specialist in local and international affairs, and frequently writes for local and foreign newspapers on international relations and the geopolitics of the region.

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