When our Arab world is trembling from violent shocks, this is the moment for Gulf states to become a united force for good. This has been my message to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders for years, so I was glad to hear Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz urging his GCC counterparts "to move from a phase of cooperation to a phase of union within a single entity" to better stave off growing threats. It's encouraging that the initiative has been welcomed by Gulf states, which will form a committee tasked with its study.
Personally, I would like such union to have one leader — perhaps appointed on a rotating basis — with defensive and interventionist command over its military. In this dangerous neighbourhood, we can either become players or we will end up being played.
The biggest threat to our region is the devious way Iran disseminates its ideology, which it uses together with its oil wealth to divide and attract proxy states and actors. Now that the last US combat troops have left Iraq it won't be long before Baghdad fits neatly into the Iranian sphere of influence, especially when the loyalties of senior Iraqi government figures lie with the Iranian ayatollahs.
Trouble is already looming. In past days, the major Sunni bloc has boycotted Parliament, an arrest warrant in the name of the Sunni Vice-President Tarek Al Hashemi and there were 18 explosions in Baghdad on one day.
Potentially, Iran and Iraq could form a political and military union or federation that would leave Gulf states under siege. The window of opportunity to keep Iraq from Persian claws is narrowing, which is why Gulf leaders should support patriotic Iraqis, both Sunni and Shiite loyal to their Arab heritage, to ensure Baghdad stays out of Qom's clutches. We must place the security of our countries a top priority overshadowing diplomatic niceties. Gulf states must unite to pre-empt such a scenario.
Ideally, the role of protecting Arab states should fall to the Arab League but this body has a history of being ineffective and is even more so today when so many of its member countries are torn from within, especially with Egypt in intensive care. Unfortunately, the Arab League, as we see with its handling of Syria, is too weak to make a real difference because it lacks a fist.
Prior to the recent meeting between the League and the GCC in Cairo, I asked two senior GCC leaders what the GCC should do to save the Syrian people from their president and his cohorts. I was told that Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq are putting up obstacles to hard decisions.
Lebanon can be partially forgiven because its government is dominated by one of Syria's proxies. Likewise, Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki is under orders from Iran's Supreme Leader to keep Bashar Al Assad's government afloat. Khartoum has military ties with Tehran and is currently seeking closer cooperation. I am, however, surprised at the stance adopted by Algeria. President Abdul Aziz Bouteflika lived and enjoyed the UAE for six years — and now he stands against those who once supported him who are keen to save their Syrian brothers and sisters.
As long as Iran controls some Arab League members the organisation can't do its job. It's taken the League months to get Al Assad's signature on paper promising an end to the crackdown, political reform and permission for Arab League peace monitors to enter the country. But on the day the agreement was signed some 150 Syrians were killed. Clearly, from Al Assad's perspective, this agreement is a time waster designed to keep the League from making good on its threat to send Syria to the UN Security Council.
It was disappointing to hear the prime minister of Qatar say that Al Assad's tenure is a matter for the Syrian people. Al Assad has lost all credibility with more than 6,000 being killed, over 100,000 behind bars and so many tortured — and when mercenaries are flooding into Syria from Iran and Iraq and the government is using Shabiha militias to ruthlessly murder its citizens. The large demonstrations all over the country show that the Syrian people have already spoken.
If the Arab League isn't prepared to send Syria to the UNSC, then the GCC's rapid reaction force partnered with the Jordanian military should ‘encourage' Al Assad to step down.
We, the descendents of Abu Bakr Al Siddiq, Omar Ibn Al Khattab, Othman Ibn Affan, Ali Ibn Abi Taleb and Khalid Ibn Al Walid, must stand against repression. We must lose our attitude of w'ana mali (what's this got to do with me?). We should reject the Arabic saying: ‘If my camel and I are safe, I don't care about my friends'.
We must remember the days of Jamal Abdul Nasser when Arab honour was paramount. If the GCC transforms into a union of Gulf states, it will be powerful enough to protect its own as well as to shine its light throughout the entire Arab world.
To the leaders of GCC states I would say: Join your hands together and make your people proud!
Khalaf Al Habtoor is a businessman and chairman of Al Habtoor Group.