By Elizabeth Broomhall
Analysts say escalating political tensions, crime spurs need for Gulf-wide approach
Police forces in the six GCC states are to team up under an agreement to create a regional agency and a permanent security committee as political upheaval threatens the wider Middle East.
Interior ministers from the Gulf nations also pledged to review the security agreements between the six states as concern over the purpose of Iran’s nuclear programme grows.
“Security chiefs of member countries will meet soon to complete studies on all aspects of the force” the ministers said in a statement following the Abu Dhabi meeting. “We should also renew security agreements among the GCC member countries to cope with new developments.”
A number of Gulf states have tightened their border security in the wake of the Arab Spring revolts that toppled rulers in Tunisia and Egypt, and caused widespread unrest in Bahrain.
Analysts said a GCC-wide police force would likely be tasked with containing the fallout from the Arab Spring unrest and cracking down on organised crime, which could increase as a result of the regional upheaval.
“The GCC states want a sustainable organised structure [to tackle crime], especially on a police level,” said Mustafa Alani, director for security and defence at the Gulf Research Centre.
“Mainly we’re talking about organised criminal activities. The major challenges are drug smuggling, human trafficking, money laundering, counterfeit trade and arms smuggling.
“These things are increasing remarkably because of the high numbers of foreigners and because of globalisation – criminals have found a new place where they can practice their activities.”
The GCC is particularly vulnerable because of its position as a transit point for goods into Asia and Europe, he added.
The region has been on high alert in the wake of regional uprisings, with a number of Gulf states clamping down on visa requirements for certain nationalities.
Kuwait in May barred nationals from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan from entering the country over fears political instability in those nations could pose a risk to its security.
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Bahrain’s flag carrier Gulf Air also suspended flights to Lebanon, Iran and Iraq in March at the height of its uprising, after what was described as “irresponsible comments” by the countries.
Dubai-based security analyst Theodore Karasik said the GCC’s move to streamline its security forces was an indication the region feared Arab Spring contagion and the increasing threat of Iran.
“This type of discussion is new,” he said. “Before the Arab revolt the GCC states were [more separate]. It has forced them to congregate and come up with a unified strategy. It also has to do with terrorism and state threats from Iran. Although you don’t hear it reported much, a lot of effort is put into mitigating terrorist plans.”
Tensions with Iran have escalated in recent weeks after the UN’s nuclear watchdog said the Persian state had been secretly working towards an atomic bomb. The country was also accused by the US of backing a murder plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in October.
On Sunday, a bomb exploded near the British embassy in Bahrain's capital, Manama, after being placed under a vehicle close by. The Gulf state, which blames Iran for inciting a political uprising that left dozens dead earlier this year, has hinted at Iran involvement.
“Official Iranian incitement has reactions as well as dangerous training in Syria as we mentioned before,” a spokesperson for Bahrain’s interior ministry said via Twitter on Sunday.
Analysts believe ongoing ministerial cooperation will lead to joint action against such threats in the future.
“There has been an extraordinary amount of calls for unity in the GCC across a number of different spheres,” said Karasik. “This is the beginning of further integration. Instead of having six single policies, [they want] to try to create a united front against emerging threats. It’s a mechanism for coordination.
“As we move into 2012 they are going to come up with more [joint] policy decisions.”