Gulf cooperation council's armed forces chiefs of staff and the commander of the US Central Command attend a meeting in Kuwait City on September 12, 2018. Image Credit: AFP

Manama: Talks about the possibility of setting up an “Arab Nato” gained in intensity as Kuwait hosts a meeting between eight Gulf and Middle Eastern countries and the United States.

The chiefs of staff of GCC, a loose alliance set up in 1981 that comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, met in Kuwait on Monday.

They will be joined on Wednesday by their counterparts in Egypt, Jordan and the commander of the US Central Command.

The Kuwaiti military on Tuesday said the meeting seeks to strengthen and activate the joint-action mechanism among the countries gathered to undertake steps discussed in previous meetings.

The meeting will discuss several issues, including security and regional affairs, combating terrorism and extremism, as well as related cases aimed at enhancing joint efforts to face various challenges to ensure security and stability in the region, the statement said.

The meeting was held two days after the six GCC chiefs of staff discussed ways to enhance military cooperation and joint-defence to reach common concepts among GCC armed forces, a statement carried by Kuwait News Agency (Kuna) said.

“The most important topic of this meeting is joint military action, which aims to strengthen cooperation in order to face present and future challenges threatening the GCC countries,” Chief of Staff of the Kuwaiti Army Lt. Gen. Mohammad Al Khudher was quoted as saying.

“We also look forward to exchanging experiences through intensive joint training between the armed forces in the GCC, which will boost their aptitudes.”

The expanded meeting has prompted new talk about upgrading the military cooperation between the nine countries into a formal and organised infrastructure that would be similar to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato).

In July, reports said the administration of US President Donald Trump was “quietly pushing ahead with a bid to create a new security and political alliance with six Gulf Arab states, Egypt and Jordan, in part to counter Iran’s expansion in the region.”

The White House wants to see deeper cooperation between the countries on missile defence, military training, counter-terrorism and other issues such as strengthening regional economic and diplomatic ties, four Arab and US sources told Reuters.

The concept of the alliance, known as the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), has been discussed between the US and its regional partners for several months, the White House reportedly said.

“MESA will serve as a bulwark against Iranian aggression, terrorism, extremism, and will bring stability to the Middle East,” a spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council told Reuters.

Several observers in Bahrain said they welcomed the formation of an “Arab Nato” as an opportunity to counter Iran’s growing menaces and influence in the region.

“Significant strategic interests and global security are at risk and the Arab partners and the US should go ahead with this new concept dedicated to defending the region and to protecting stability,” Waleed Mohammad, an analyst in Bahrain, said.

“The alliance might be a long shot due to the differences within the alliance, but the willing partners need to rise to the challenge of working together against common enemies that include non-state actors who now brag about their growing influence in several Arab countries.”