The holy city of Mecca prepared to welcome Arab and Muslim leaders Thursday (May 30th) for Islamic, Arab and Gulf summits, as Saudi Arabia seeks to rally support against Iran over attacks on oil installations.
The Arab League and Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) emergency summits called by Saudi Arabia were set to begin Thursday, a day before the long-scheduled Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) summit.
Riyadh called the talks to discuss the standoff with Iran and ways to isolate Tehran amid fears of a military confrontation.
Large banners and flags decorated the streets of Mecca to welcome the leaders, expected to include Qatar's Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani, who is slated to attend all three meetings.
"Qatar, which has never failed to participate actively and positively on Arab, Islamic and international matters, once again considers the greater good of the region," said Qatar's foreign ministry spokeswoman Lolwah al-Khater.
The summits coincide with the last few days of the holy month of Ramadan, when Mecca throngs with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.
The summits are held at midnight as Muslims break their day-long fasting at sunset and then go into several hours of special prayers known as Taraweeh.
The large crowds could pose a logistic headache for the organisers, who sealed off six major roads for leaders and advised pilgrims to use alternative streets.
On the eve of the talks, the kingdom blasted what it called Iranian "interference" in the region and demanded "firmness" over attacks on Gulf oil tankers and pipelines.
A message to Iran
The three summits come at a critical time and aim to send a serious message to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to stop its threats, King Saud University political science professor Saleh al-Khathlan told Al-Mashareq.
"The emergency GCC summit aims to send a clear message to the IRGC to stop its destructive expansionist project in the region, especially in light of the recent attacks on the kingdom and the UAE," he said.
Several tankers in Gulf waters were targeted under mysterious circumstances in recent weeks, and a Saudi crude pipeline was hit by drone strikes co-ordinated by Yemen's Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah).
Saudi Arabia and the other GCC states are keen to ensure the situation does not reach the point of no return, al-Khathlan said, noting that military readiness is at its highest level.
The US has dispatched an aircraft carrier strike group, a bomber task force and 1,500 additional troops to the region.
US forces are prepared to "intervene immediately should the military situation escalate", al-Khathlan said, in keeping with the US commitment to safeguard the security of the region and protect its allies.
He also noted the US commitment to the bilateral military and security agreements it has signed with some countries in the region.
'Tough stance' on IRGC
"That the summits in Mecca are Gulf-Arab-Islamic and not just Gulf alone underscores the seriousness of the Iranian threats, especially concerning the Strait of Hormuz," al-Khathlan said.
The Strait of Hormuz separates Iran and Oman, linking the Gulf to the Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea.
The strait is the only oil outlet for some countries, such as Kuwait, and its closure would have serious global implications, given that a third of the world’s seaborne oil exports pass through it.
Al-Khathlan predicted that Arab and Muslim countries will take a tough stance towards the IRGC and its foreign affiliates at the summits in Mecca, and will issue a serious demand for it to stop its repeated attacks and threats.
This includes attacks by the Houthis, he said, noting that "despite their denials, the armed group does not take any action without direct orders from the IRGC".
Al-Khathlan said the kingdom will call for strengthening the initiative it presented at the 29th Arab summit, held in April 2018 in Dhahran.
The Arab national security document issued at the end of the Dhahran summit underscores the participants' commitment to enhancing solidarity among Arab countries, and achieving security and stability for their peoples.
The kingdom is keen to preserve the region’s unity, he said, and expressed this by inviting all states to the summit, including Qatar, despite continuing tensions.
Al-Khathlan said he expects the summit to include a call for intensifying the Arab and Gulf diplomatic effort to address IRGC threats, in order to lift the spectre of war and ensure the security of the region and maritime navigation.