Security |

Saudi Arabia, UAE join maritime alliance to protect Gulf waters

By Sultan al-Barei in Riyadh

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The Saudi navy, accompanied with helicopter air support, conducts a patrol in the Gulf region. [Photo courtesy of the Saudi Ministry of Defence]

In a recent move that demonstrates their shared commitment to regional security, Saudi Arabia and the UAE last month joined an international alliance that promotes safety at sea and the protection of the marine environment.

The accession to the International Maritime Security Construct is an important step for both countries to fend off the threats posed by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), experts told Al-Mashareq.

The aim of this international alliance is to protect merchant ships and ensure freedom of navigation and international trade, the Saudi Ministry of Defence said September 18th.

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Saudi naval forces conduct a training exercise in Gulf waters. [Photo courtesy of the Saudi Ministry of Defence]

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UAE military and government officials attend the launch of the Hmeem command boat of the Critical Infrastructure and Coastal Protection Authority (CICPA). [Photo courtesy of Emirates News Agency (WAM)]

This step will "protect the interests of the alliance's member countries in order to enhance the security and safety of merchant ships" passing through the Strait of Hormuz, Bab al-Mandab, the Sea of Oman and the Arabian Gulf, it said.

One day later, the UAE followed suit. The director of its international security co-operation department, Salem Mohammed al-Zaabi, said in a statement that the UAE joined "in order to secure the flow of energy supplies to the global economy and contribute to maintaining international peace and security".

Countering IRGC threat

Riyadh joined the US-led force to protect Gulf shipping as tensions with Iran soared after the September 14th attacks that temporarily knocked out half of the OPEC giant's production.

The US pushed for the creation of the International Maritime Security Construct to safeguard trade and the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz.

It has so far also been joined by Australia, Britain, the UAE and Bahrain, which is home to the US Fifth Fleet.

The initiative followed a number of mystery attacks on oil tankers and facilities in and around the strategic waterway through which a third of the world's seaborne oil passes.

Saudi Arabia joined the alliance "to establish security and stability in the region and prevent attacks on ships passing through these waters, especially in view of the recent attacks carried out by the IRGC in the Gulf region and the Strait of Hormuz", said Saudi military expert Mansour al-Shehri.

The kingdom is one of the largest oil exporters in the world. Hence, it is keen on maintaining the security of this sector not only for its own sake, but for the sake of the global energy market as well, he told Al-Mashareq.

The kingdom’s and the UAE’s accession to the alliance is "one of the strongest political and military messages directed at the IRGC", he said, as it warns it against continuing to endanger the safety of navigation and security of Gulf states.

Unity in the face of Iranian aggression

This move reflects the nature of the strategic relationship between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as between them and other countries operating within the alliance, led by the US, said Col. Rashid Mohammed al-Marri, formerly of the Dubai Police Anti-Narcotics Department.

It confirms their "unity with regards to fending off Iran's continuous transgressions", he told Al-Mashareq.

The area that the new maritime alliance covers is vast and requires a monumental effort to fully protect it, he said.

"Securing the area requires a heavy deployment of troops and naval vessels, in addition to logistics and intelligence teams who collect data using both traditional means and modern surveillance equipment linked to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and satellites," he said.

Al-Marri said the alliance would "enhance the coastal security of both countries and that of other countries in the region, and prevent any action by [the Iranian regime] to infiltrate them or smuggle weapons and explosives through their borders".

With Saudi Arabia and the UAE joining the maritime alliance, this will hopefully prompt other major countries that possess big naval military capabilities to join as well, Emirati military expert Abdullah al-Ameri told Al-Mashareq.

The region’s security is a "shared global responsibility", he said, stressing that enhanced security ensures that the flow of global energy supplies remains uninterrupted.

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