Gulf Council looks at joint military role
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Standing six months ago at the cradle of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), most Gulf states could not repeat often enough that the council was not a military pact.
But events since the May inauguration of the GCC, an economic and political superstructure similar to the European Economic Community, have forced the leaders to openly review their priorities.
Leaders of the six GCC member states, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman, which gathered Nov. 10, appeared to be drawing conclusions from these recent events:
* The June bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor by Israel.
* The Israeli bombing shortly thereafter of downtown Beirut.
* The tripartite treaty signed in August by Libya, South Yemen, and Ethiopia.
* The Iranian bombing of a Kuwaiti oil installation in late September.
* Regular Israeli incursions into Saudi airspace.
These events helped bridge, at least to some extent, the enormous differences among the Gulf States.
Speaking to the Qatari newspaper, Al Raya, GCC-Secretary General Abdulla Bishara confirmed last week that ''there is a complete accord among the GCC member states on the basic principles of collective security.''
At a press conference Nov. 10, Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud Al Faisal appeared to be taking Oman to task for its participation in Operation Bright Star - military maneuvers with the United States.
Stressing the principles of nonalignment, Saud said that ''these principles were accepted by all member countries and the role of this summit conference is to review the practical steps in applying those principles. As to the effect of that on the (Operation Bright Star) military exercises,this will have to be assessed and evaluated in this summit conference.''
But Arab diplomatic sources say Saudi Arabia has now edged closer to the Omani view - a result of Oman's frequent clashes with neighboring South Yemen, Moscow's closest ally in the region. Saudi Arabia is further said to be seriously considering an Omani working paper in the wake of the approval by the US Congress of the sale of AWACS radar surveillance planes.
The Omani proposals outlined in the working paper are based on the principle that each state will retain its military sovereignty but will shoulder, in addition to its national responsibilities, a regional role as part of a unified strategy. The Omani paper is said to suggest:
* A naval force which will group naval units and vessels from each country under a joint command. Each group would defend assigned zones in Gulf passageways.
* The strengthening and interconnecting of existing air defense systems.
Following the Iranian bombing of its oil installation, Kuwait - hitherto the Gulf state most opposed to Oman's granting of militarty facilities - appears to have softened its stand. In an interview with a Kuwaiti daily Nov. 7, Sheikh Salim Al Ahmed Al Sabah, a Kuwaiti foreign ministry official called for ''serious and quick action'' in securing the Gulf.