Intra-Gulf Relations: The Dilemma of Strategic Void and Fragmentation (1971-2018)

Al Jazeera Centre for Studies has recently published a book entitled Intra-Gulf Relations: The Dilemma of Strategic Void and Fragmentation (1971 –2018) by Dr. Mohammed Al-Misfer.
3 December 2018
[Al Jazeera]

Al Jazeera Centre for Studies has recently published a book entitled Intra-Gulf Relations: The Dilemma of Strategic Void and Fragmentation (1971-2018) by Dr. Mohammed Al-Misfer.

Through a meditative and forward-looking vision, the book examines the relations of the GCC states from the council’s pre-establishment stage to its post-establishment phase. The book also looks at the different paths of cooperation and conflicts that have occurred in the intra-Gulf relations and their evolution during the last three decades of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty first. The book also explains the various local, regional and international factors that have influenced and continue to influence relations between the GCC countries both negatively and positively.

Generally, Al-Misfer seeks to identify and evaluate the intra-Gulf relations in light of the overlap between them and regional and international policies as well as explore their trends and the future of the Gulf states.

Intra-Gulf Relations comprises seven chapters, given the length of the period of time it attends to. Each chapter deals with a specific period to reflect the most important local, regional and international factors influencing the trends of intra-GCC relations. The book also attempts to follow up those factors and relations in successive stages of time.

The first chapter of the book begins with an induction survey on the "value of the Gulf region” in its geo-political or "macro" context, which includes its two banks (i.e. the eastern Iranian bank and the western Arab bank) in addition to its northern extension, which is not a bank but a "narrow crossing" towards Iraq, not exceeding ten miles. The dimensions of the geographical location of the bay show how important it is from several angles: the energy, geopolitical, geostrategic, historical, civilisational and religious depths of geographic dynamics.

The second chapter focuses on the Arab west bank of the Gulf beginning with British influence from 1806 untill 1968, the year of British withdrawal, and shed lights on the period following the emergence of sovereign states in the region. This chapter also highlights the backgrounds of the social and political composition and the positions of the three regional powers – Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran – as well as the opposing international powers. Moreover, the chapter examines the circumstances surrounding the call for the formation of a union between the emirates on coast of Oman – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Fujairah, Ajman and Umm Al Quwain. The call for the Federation was made at the end of 1967, when Britain informed the Emirati sheikhs of its decision to withdraw from the region in 1971. In addition, the chapter deals with the declaration of the founding of the "union " that included the reconciled Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar, on 27 February 1968 followed by the break of the "union" on 24 October 1970. On 2 December 1971, a federation of six emirates was declared under the name of the United Arab Emirates; and on 10 February 1972, the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah joined, making it a total of seven emirates. The author asserts that the union between the emirates took place after Abu Dhabi and Dubai managed to resolve their land and sea border disputes on 18-19 February 1969, thanks to the mediation of the former Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Ahmad bin Ali Al Thani. All of the abovementioned is put in the context of the local, regional and international repercussions of British withdrawal in the 1970s, and explains why Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman have been excluded from any federal or coordinating arrangement, revealing the existence of conflict between regional and international forces.

The third chapter examines the events of the 1980s, beginning with the Islamic revolution in Iran and the return of Ayatollah Khomeini to Tehran from exile on 1 February 1979 to the outbreak of the Iraq-Iran war in September 1980, which lasted eight years. This period saw the completion of the British withdrawal and the end of the effectiveness of the friendship treaties concluded by Britain with the newly independent Gulf states, which lasted till 1981. The beginning of the 1980s also saw the accession of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar to the unitary efforts in the Gulf region not on a "full-unity" basis, such as with the United Arab Emirates, but rather on a "coordination" basis within the Gulf Cooperation Council. The first "unitary" equation in the 1970s came as a reaction to British withdrawal and in order to fill the strategic void “locally ", while the "coordination " equation came in the 1980s to fill the strategic void "regionally", particularly because of the war between the two strongest regional powers at the time: Iraq and Iran. This period also witnessed the depth of international optimism, the almost complete "alienation” of the will of the region and the diversity of each country's choices.

In the fourth chapter, the book examines the implications of "Iraqi invasion" of Kuwait, which took place on 2 August 1990, followed by the “liberation of Kuwait" through an international alliance led by the United States on 17 January 1991. The chapter shed light on the impact of the US leadership on the appropriation of the rest of the region’s "wealth” and “revenues ". The author also reveals the full military capacity of the Cooperation Council to face the burdens of "defensive" and "security" coordination in the context of divergent positions.

Chapter five discusses the events and issues of the early 2000s and the escalating crises in the Arab Gulf Region. The Al-Aqsa Intifada was at the forefront of events, as the Arab Gulf states were among those that blessed the so-called peace process between the Palestinians and Israel in the 1990s. However, the attacks of 11 September 2001 and the subsequent accusation of a group of Arab youths once again shed light on events in the Gulf region. After the United States declared war on "terrorism", it invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 and occupied Iraq in 2003. These events have had significant repercussions on the Arab Gulf states. In 2006, there was a kind of strategic understanding between the GCC and the United States in light of a mutual understanding of the nature of regional risks, especially growing Iranian influence in the region. However, the division between the GCC Countries gradually worsened; and their positions on the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006 and on Gaza in 2008-2009 and 2014 were divided. The division became more apparent, however, after the Arab Spring revolutions, which led to a divergence in most of the policies and strategies of the Gulf states. The rift then evolved into an acute and unprecedented break between the GCC countries when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as Egypt, imposed a blockade on Qatar on 5 June 2017, closing their land, sea and air borders. The crisis continues to intensify even further despite attempts of mediation to alleviate it.

The sixth chapter, however, examines the Gulf region from the American and Israeli perspectives, for the United States sought to fill the strategic void left by British withdrawal from the Gulf in 1971. The US worked to enshrine its hegemony over the state and its oil, which is vital to world economies. The consecration of American hegemony over the region became even clearer after the collapse of the Soviet Union when the United States became the exclusive leader of the international system in light of the spread of globalisation. At the same time, since the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, Israel has been trying to penetrate the Gulf through attempts of relation normalisation and the weakening of influential countries such as Saudi Arabia.

Finally, chapter seven discusses the plans and visions of the Gulf Cooperation Council for meeting the challenge of the Arab revolutions that began in Tunisia in December 2010 and spread to several Arab countries in 2011 with varying frequency and impact. This chapter examines the positions of the Gulf regimes on the revolutions and the extent of agreement and disagreement with them. It also examines the impact of the Arab Spring within the Gulf countries, some of whom rejected or confronted it while others responded by carrying out reforms. As Yemen is closest to and has the most strategic influence on the GCC, especially Saudi Arabia, the author has devoted a case study to the Yemeni revolution. In this context, this chapter examines Operation Decisive Storm and its developments to date in addition to its implications for the Gulf states.

About the Book

Title: Intra-Gulf Relations: The Dilemma of Strategic Void and Fragmentation (1971-2018)
Author: Mohammed Al-Misfer
Publisher: Al Jazeera Centre for Studies and Arab Scientific Publishers
Year: 2018