The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), also known as the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf consists of all of the Arab states within the Persian Gulf, excluding Iraq. The members of the GCC are: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The GCC was established on May 25 1981, it's purpose being to facilitate broad economic, social, military, and cultural cooperation throughout the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The free trade economic policies that preceeded the establishment of the GCC facilitated an easy transition into a political and economic cooperative union. In the future it is possible that Jordan, Morocco and Yemen may join.
The immediate reasoning for the formulation of this council was to collectively address their security concerns and protect themselves from the Iran-Iraq war. The main objectives for this cooperative union are broad and include:
- Collaboration in science and technology sectors
- The establishment of scientific research facilities for collaboration on research
- Military unity and strength
- Increased economic cooperation in the private sectors
- The establishment of a common currency (this goal was to be met by 2010, and has yet to be accomplished)
The council holds meetings regularly and coordinates decision making between all members. The Presidency of the council rotates annually and in 2014 the Presidency belonged to Kuwait.
The GCC officially recognized Hezbollah as a terrorist organization on March 1, 2016. The action was prompted by Hezbollah attempting to recruit fighters and smuggle weapons and drugs within GCC states, according to a spokesperson.
Members of the GCC and officials from the U.S. hold a yearly meeting known as the GCC-U.S. Strategic Cooperation Forum (SCF), in order to coordinate various activities and enhance cooperation between all parties involved. The SCF was formed in 2012, and normally occurs in tandem with United Nations General Assembly meetings. Below you can find links to joint communiques issued following the five GCC-U.S. SCF meetings.
In December 2000 the GCC states signed a joint defense agreement stating that any threat against a member state would be considered a threat against all member states and addressed as such. The military aspect of the GCC's cooperation is named Peninsula Shield Force, and it's purpose is to deter military action against any member state and provide military coordination should an attack occur. 3 years after the creation of the GCC it was decided that the time had come to create a unified military force to provide security for the region. 10,000 soldiers total, hailing from all member states were stationed in Saudi Arabia with full equipment comprising infantry and artillery from all countries. Currently the Peninsula Shield Force has around 40,000 active soldiers and it's permanent base is in King Khalid Military City in Saudi Arabia. The Peninsula Shield Force has been utilized on a few occasions, first in 1991 during the liberation of Kuwait after the Iraq invasion. In 2003 Peninsula Shield Force soldiers were deployed to Kuwait once again because of the Iraq war in order to protect Kuwait from Iraq's potential military threat.
The largest deployment of Peninsula Shield Force troops happened in 2011 during the Bahraini uprising. The Bahrainian government requested the troops, sent by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to assist in quelling the internal threat of revolution and securing the Bahrainian borders. This deployment represented about 10% of the Peninsula Shield Force troops, and no Bahrainian citizens were injured by the troops during the operation, the Peninsula Shield Force troops did not participate in any direct confrontations with Bahrainian civilians or military operations. The Peninsula Shield Forces were limited to only helping the Bahrainian military prepare for military operations and securing the Bahrainian borders. No evidence of any human rights abuses or issues were found to be committed by these units.
On December 13, 2013, it was announced that the GCC had formed a joint military command and police forces for the Gulf. A proposal was made as well for the establishment of the Gulf Academy for Strategic and Security Studies, which will provide more military cooperation between the GCC countries. In addition this will allow the United States to better coordinate actions with the GCC, including the selling of arms and weapons to the GCC states as a bulk unit instead of individually. Speaking about this joint military and police force for the gulf, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that "We would like to expand our security cooperation with partners in the region by working in a coordinated way with the GCC, including through the sales of U.S. defense articles through the GCC as an organization... This is a natural next step in improving U.S.-GCC collaboration, and it will enable the GCC to acquire critical military capabilities, including items for ballistic missile defense, maritime security, and counterterrorism". The United States participates in arms sales to the GCC countries to combat Iran and the spread of radical Islam.
In 2015, prior to a meeting between GCC heads-of-state and U.S. President Barack Obama at Camp David, senior U.S. officials confirmed that the U.S. government had recently rejected an appeal from the GCC states to form a defensive treaty between the parties involved. Relations strained between the GCC nations and the United States after this appeal was rejected, following months of lobbying by GCC officials in favor of a defense treaty. Leaders from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and and Oman opted to send official representatives to the meeting instead of coming themselves, in what was perceived by the international media as a snub to Obama. The purpose of this GCC-U.S. summit at Camp David was to discuss the recently agreed to framework for a nuclear deal with Iran.
In the face of the threat from radical Islam coming from Iran and Iraq, an unlikely partnership has been forged over the years between Israel and the GCC members. A convergence of geopolitical interests and a mutual desire for trade and security is driving Israel and the Arab states of the GCC into a closer interdependent relationship. Although Israel no longer maintains official diplomatic relations with the states of the gulf and considers Saudi Arabia an enemy of the state, the Israelis and the GCC members have been maintaining engagement under the radar since the 1990's.
The Israeli government has pushed for closer ties with the GCC members, opening a "virtual embassy" on July 18 in the form of a Twitter account called "IsraelintheGCC" to facilitate increased dialogue and idea exchanges between Israel and the GCC states. After the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, the Gulf states lifted their boycott of companies that participated in business relations with Israel, and this was the begining of a cautious but mutually beneficial relationship.
In 1996 Israel and Oman signed a mutual trade agreement for the opening of respective trade offices within each other's borders. Following this, Israel trade offices were opened in Oman and Qatar but these cooperative ties did not last. After the second Intifada in late 2000, GCC member Oman felt that the tides of public opinion were turning against Israel and suspended relations between the two countries. The Israelis criticized this decision, claiming that it would have a negative impact on peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. Currently Oman and Qatar are the only GCC nations that are open about their relationship wtith Israel, although they no longer hold official diplomatic relations.
In an important step that shows the potentially warm state of future relations, it was reported that Israel opened a diplomatic office somewhere in the Persian Gulf between 2010 and 2012. The GCC states are just as wary of a nuclear Iran as Israel is, and through this mutual fear they have found common ground and some forms of mutual cooperation. GCC officials are also interested in ties with Israel because they see Israel's strategic relationship with the United States as an asset to combatting Islamic extremism. The GCC nations are interested in peace in the region and a large portion of that has to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Until there is a concrete peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, the GCC will continue to be a spectator pushing for peace.
In an unprecedented move, GCC member state Kuwait's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled al-Hamad al-Sabah visited Jerusalem's Old City in September 2014, while on a diplomatic mission speaking to the Palestinian Authority President Abbas. Al-Sabah visited Jerusalem's Temple Mount in a significant and rare display, becoming only the fifth prominent Arab to visit the Temple Mount since 1967.
Member states of the GCC including Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, expressed interest in purchasing an Iron Dome missile defense system for their own countries in October 2015. This deal would be facilitated by the United States and would help the Gulf countries deal with a “growing arsenal of Iranian missiles.”
Despite the refusal of GCC members to recognize Israel's right to exist or engage in significant and open diplomatic activities with the Jewish state, a study by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change concluded that trade between Israel and the Gulf states topped $1 billion in 2017. The institute said that the true value of Israeli-Gulf trade is hidden by the fact that goods are shipped to third-party countries and then re-sold in the Gulf. Since 2013, official Israeli export and import figures do not show any trade with the six Arab Gulf states.
In a dramatic shift from decades of policy in which Gulf states refused to normalize relations with Israel until the Palestinian issue was resolved, the UAE agreed to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel in September 2020. After the agreement was denounced by Palestinian officals, the GCC demanded an apology for their irresponsible language, incitement and threats.
Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica;
“Profile: Gulf Cooperation Council,” BBC News;
“Gulf nations announce joint military command,” The Atlantic Council (December 13, 2013);
Raphael Ahren. “Israel and the Gulf states: It's complicated,” The Times of Israel (August 9, 2013);
“Gulf States set to buy Iron Dome system,” SkyNews (October 13, 2015);
Israel’s exports to Gulf states worth almost $1 billion, study suggests, i24 News, (August 16, 2018);
Dean Shmuel Elmas, “GCC demands Palestinian leaders formally apologize for ‘incitement,’” JNS, (September 8, 2020).