Air Defense: From Desperation Comes Change In Arabia

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May 27, 2015: Members of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council, composed of the wealthy Arab Gulf oil states) are under American pressure to cooperate more closely and effectively in their own defense. The objective of this effort is to get the GCC states to do what NATO has long done with air (and missile) defense and integrate all member nations’ radars and missiles. While this seemed obvious to the NATO states, it is not normal for Arab leaders to cooperate that closely. The mistrust goes back a long time and is present even within Arab countries. It’s not uncommon to have separate armed forces to counter each other in the event of a coup. Multiple intelligence agencies, some just to keep an eye on each other and the armed forces, are common. Iran is not immune to this problem, and has “Revolutionary Guard” force answerable to the senior clerics, to make sure the regular armed forces and the national police remain loyal. Saudi Arabia has its “National Guard”, recruited from tribes long loyal to the Saud family, to counter the regular armed forces, just in case.

Despite this distrust, the Americans point out that all those Patriot (in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait) and THAAD (on order for UAE with Saudi Arabia Qatar considering it) systems could be a lot more effective if they were part of a joint system. At that point the United States could add the Patriot batteries and Aegis equipped ships stationed in the Gulf to the system. Adding Israel would be useful for all concerned but that is unlikely to happen, officially at least, any time soon. Meantime the Israelis are the only ones with long range missile warning and tracking radars. This Arab aversion to cooperation led to none of them seeing a reason to buy long range radars.  The Americans point out that the Iranians are certain to exploit this lack of coordination and that gets the attention of the Arabs, who have a long history of Iranian aggression carried out using clever and diabolical methods. Cooperation is unlikely right away, but the current attempt has a better chance of succeeding than past ones. Iran being close to getting nukes and increasingly open about its plans to conquer the Arabian states has created an atmosphere of desperation in Arabia. From desperation comes willingness to try anything, even cooperating with your neighbor.

Since September 11, 2001 the six GCC states (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait) have been spending more and more on defense. Arms imports by the GCC states have, for the last few years, averaged about $60 billion a year. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait are the big buyers. They see their main foe as Iran. While much of that money goes to purchase new weapons the GCC states pay less attention to training, maintenance and leadership. Like the aversion to air defense integration, GCC leaders are more concerned with rebellion at home than an Iranian invasion, but realize they have to be ready for both.

The GCC is not waiting for the United States and other oil importing nations to take action in the event of an Iranian attempt to close off the entry to the Persian Gulf (the 6.4 kilometers wide shipping channel in the Straits of Hormuz). The GCC nations not only earn most of their income via oil shipped out through the channel (nearly 20 million barrels a day, most it from GCC members) but also get most of their food and other goods via freighters coming in. So for more than a decade the GCC has made plans to deal with the Iranian threat. The key here is coordinating the air and naval forces of the GCC members, and close cooperation with foreign (especially American) allies. The GCC weapons are more modern and numerous than what the Iranians have. Add in American, and other foreign forces stationed in the Gulf, and the Iranians are up against a formidable force, at least on paper. While the Iranians have always been better fighters than the Arabs the GCC states have sought to give their troops more training, using Western trainers and techniques. This may not have eliminated the Iranian advantage but it closed the gap, or so the Arabs hope. Iran assets that nothing has changed and that the Arabs are vulnerable.

The Gulf Arab states have a long history with Iran and other hostile outsiders. The solution has always been to seek unity and outside allies. In the 19th century, the coastal emirates (city states that depended on trade, pearls, and fishing) allied themselves with Britain, for protection against the Turks (who controlled what is now Iraq), Iran (always a threat to the Arabs), and the interior tribes of Arabia. Britain was interested in suppressing pirates (which often operated out of the emirates) and halting Turkish expansion. In 1971, seven of the emirates formed a federation: the UAE. There were immediate disputes with Saudi Arabia about where the land and water borders should be. Some of those disputes are still unresolved. The Saudis consider themselves the leader of Arabia, but many in Yemen, Kuwait, Oman, and the UAE often disagree. There is lots of friction. Nevertheless, in 1981, the Gulf Cooperation Council was formed by Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE was the chief organizer of the council and has constantly quarreled with Saudi Arabia over leadership issues. But when it comes to outside threats, especially the Iranians, there is less quarrelling and a lot more cooperation. It's uncertain if this will be enough to thwart the Iranians. Only an actual war will reveal the reality of the situation.

 

 


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