No one can deny that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has been the best example of pan-Arab efforts to achieve unity. But the GCC has always been at the receiving end of criticism from the people of the Gulf. Rarely have they been satisfied with its performance; they often underestimate its benefits, claiming that they have not received the perks they were expecting as citizens of GCC countries. They are right to a certain degree: the performance of the GCC has not been satisfying even to Gulf leaders themselves who consider their citizens’ aspirations, no matter how high, as their legitimate right. However, when the winds of Operation Decisive Storm blew, and the Gulf bared its teeth to the Houthis and Iran, the GCC’s popularity soared after hitting an all-time low.
Regardless of the reservation Oman has expressed concerning its participation in Operation Decisive Storm and its decision to remain neutral on an issue that affects the national security of the Gulf states, the remaining five member states have chosen to give precedence to their supreme interests, rising above, or freezing, previous differences among them. This is a sign of the profound sense of responsibility these countries have towards their security and citizens. In fact, despite its previous differences with three GCC members, Qatar must be credited for not opposing the Gulf coalition or splitting Gulf ranks. As an effective and essential GCC member, Doha realizes that the undermining of legitimacy in Yemen by the Houthis runs against its own interests. Once Yemen slides further into chaos and the country becomes consumed by civil war amid an extension of Iranian influence, no one will be free from danger. Everyone will be affected by the growing Houthi influence in Yemen, whether they share borders with Yemen, as Saudi Arabia and Oman do, or are geographically remote from Sana’a, which is the case for the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait. When chaos sets in, it will spread like wildfire, and each of the Arabian Peninsula countries will have its share of the flames.
All GCC states, except Oman, have set an example of collective work and crowned it by cobbling a ten-state-strong coalition to oust the Houthi militias from Sana’a and reinstate the legitimate president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. It reminds us of the Gulf-allied Operation Desert Storm that evicted Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait in 1990. Should Gulf states make use of this coalition beyond the operation by developing it to preserve their security and stability, they may be able to convince their citizens that the council is not just for services, as a wide segment of the public in the Gulf see it. Rather, it is an assembly that gains strength, coherence and integration year after year. If the GCC’s Peninsula Shield Force, which was effective in liberating Kuwait and preserving stability in Bahrain by foiling the Iranian project there in 2011, was the best fruit of GCC cooperation, the anti-Houthi coalition should act as the core of the Joint Arab Force, or as a prelude to a military and security coalition to protect the security and stability of the Gulf.
The GCC has bared its teeth and made its message clear. Though coming somewhat late, this message has now reached those in Tehran. My only fear is that warm relations between some countries and Iran will blunt those teeth.
It is understandable that some Gulf States cannot face Iran with the same strength and clarity that Saudi Arabia has shown. At the end of the day, every country has its own role to play. But it would not be acceptable to indulge in boosting ties with countries that antagonize the GCC and target its security and stability.