Saudi King Abdullah said on Monday the security of Saudi Arabia and its Arab neighbors was being targeted, in an apparent reference to regional rival Iran, and he called for Gulf Arab states to close ranks in a “single entity.”
“No doubt you all know that we are targeted in our safety and security. That is why we have to take responsibility,” he said, addressing the opening session of a meeting of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the Saudi capital.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, has accused Iran of supporting an alleged plot uncovered in October by the US to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington.
That month, the Saudi interior ministry also blamed an unnamed foreign power for a violent attack on a police station by members of the kingdom’s Shiite Muslim minority.
Iran, the region’s Shiite giant, has denied the charges, but Iranian Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi visited Riyadh last week in an effort to cool tensions.
King Abdullah also suggested that the GCC needed to adapt to new circumstances in the Middle East following the popular uprisings that swept some Arab countries earlier this year.
“We learnt from history and experience not to stand still when faced with our reality,” the king said.
“Whoever does that will end up at the back of the caravan trail and will be lost. That is something we will not accept for the sake of our countries, our people, our stability and our security. That is why I ask of you today to move beyond the stage of cooperation and into the stage of unity in a single entity,” he added.
A Saudi official confirmed that the idea of moving the six-nation GCC towards a sort of confederacy had been discussed given its concerns about the regional situation, but only informally, and said that it was an idea for the future.
“It is possible,” said Jamal Khashoggi, a former Saudi newspaper editor with strong connections to the royal family.
“Each country has a different system and it would require political will,” he added, suggesting that a possible model was the United Arab Emirates, a GCC member and confederacy where seven sheikhdoms maintain their own internal political systems, but have a joint foreign and economic policy.
“If there is the political will to establish such a union, the idea will be more realistic,” said diplomatic adviser to Bahrain’s king Muhammad Abdul Ghaffar, adding that King Abdullah had not gone into detail of how it might be implemented.
While the six states refer to each other in Arabic as “full brothers,” the strongest possible family connection in a tribal society where a father may have had dozens of sons by different wives, they have frequently disagreed on many areas of policy.