Saudi Arabia Table of Contents
In contrast to its relations with Iran or Iraq, Saudi Arabia's ties with the small Arab oil-producing states along its eastern flank have been historically close. In 1992 the kingdom was allied with its fellow monarchies and shaykhdoms of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a regional collective security and economic organization. Saudi Arabia had taken the lead in forming the GCC. The outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in September 1980 had provided the impetus Riyadh needed to convince its neighbors to join in a defensive pact. During the initial phase of that conflict, Iraqi forces achieved major victories inside Iran. Despite their distrust of the revolutionary regime in Tehran, Iraq's early successes alarmed the Saudis because they feared a defeat of Iran would embolden Baghdad to adopt an aggressive posture against other countries, especially in the Arabian Peninsula. Riyadh did not need to persuade the Kuwaitis and other gulf rulers about the security implications of a victorious Iraq; they all shared similar views of Iraqi ambitions, and they recognized the vulnerability of their small states. Representatives from Saudi Arabia and the five other countries began meeting in January 1981 to work out the details of an alliance, and the GCC was officially inaugurated four months later.
Although the Iran-Iraq War continued to preoccupy the GCC until the belligerents agreed to a cease-fire in 1988, the focus of security concerns had shifted from Baghdad to Tehran by late 1981, when it became obvious that Iraq would not be able to defeat Iran. Even before the Iran-Iraq War had begun, the Saudis and their allies believed Iranian agents fomented demonstrations and riots among the Shia population living in the countries on the Arab side of the Persian Gulf. Renewed alarm about Iran was aroused in December 1981, when Bahraini police announced the arrest of a clandestine group of Arab men associated with the illegal Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, based in Tehran. The Saudis and most other GCC rulers believed that the group, which had a large cache of arms allegedly provided by the Iranian embassy in Manama, planned to assassinate Bahraini officials and seize public buildings as part of a plot to overthrow the regime. This incident convinced Saudi Arabia that Iran sponsored terrorist groups and inclined the kingdom to support the Iraqi war effort more openly.
GCC concerns about Iranian involvement with regional terrorism remained high for almost three years following the Bahrain incident. Between 1982 and 1985, a series of assassinations, detonations of explosives-laden automobiles, and airplane hijackings throughout the Middle East, as well as the outbreak of the tanker war in the Persian Gulf, all contributed to reinforcing the strong suspicions about Iran. From a GCC perspective, the most unsettling example of terrorism was the 1983 truck bombing of several sites in Kuwait, including the United States embassy. The Saudis and their allies generally disbelieved Iranian denials of complicity. Nevertheless, GCC security forces failed to obtain conclusive evidence directly linking Iran to the various Arab Shia groups that carried out violent acts. The lack of tangible proof prompted Oman and the UAE to improve their bilateral relations with Iran and to mediate between Riyadh and Tehran. These efforts actually led to a limited rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran. For about a year, from 1985 to 1986, the two countries cooperated on several issues including oil policy.
During 1986 the intensification of the tanker-war phase of the Iran-Iraq conflict and the revelations of covert United States arms shipments to Tehran combined to refocus GCC concerns on conventional security matters. Saudi Arabia differed with Kuwait regarding the most effective means of dealing with the new threat. In particular, the Saudis rejected the Kuwaiti view that the presence of foreign warships in the Persian Gulf would intimidate Iran into ceasing retaliatory attacks on GCC shipping. The Saudis believed that the presence of foreign naval vessels would merely provoke Iran into widening the conflict, and the ultimate consequences would be adverse for all the GCC states. Riyadh therefore supported the renewal of United Nations (UN) efforts to negotiate a cease-fire between Iran and Iraq. After the UN Security Council passed Resolution 598 calling for a cease-fire and mediated peace talks between the warring countries, Saudi Arabia joined its GCC allies in support of all diplomatic moves to bring sanctions against Iran if it refused to accept the resolution. All GCC countries were relieved when Iran agreed in 1988 to abide by the terms of Resolution 598.
The cessation of fighting between Iran and Iraq led to the realization of the GCC's deepest fears: that a militarily strong Iraq would try to intimidate its neighbors. By the end of 1988, Iraq had begun to pressure Kuwait for the rights to use Kuwaiti islands that controlled access to Iraqi ports. Tension between Iraq and Kuwait escalated, culminating in August 1990 with Iraq's invasion, occupation, and annexation of the small country. The aggression revealed to a stunned GCC that the alliance had insufficient power to deter or repel an attack on one of its members. Saudi Arabia thus requested United States assistance, as well as assistance from its Arab allies. All other GCC members provided military contingents for the coalition that was formed to confront Iraq. Following the liberation of Kuwait, the GCC decided that it would be necessary to maintain security alliances with countries from outside the Persian Gulf region. As of 1992, however, the GCC had not negotiated any arrangements for itself, although individual members had concluded bilateral defense pacts with other countries.
Data as of December 1992
Saudi Arabia Table of Contents