Gulf Arab countries and the security of navigation in the Bab el Mandeb and the Red Sea

Gulf Arab countries and the security of navigation in the Bab el Mandeb and the Red Sea

Through a series of connected articles, I referred to the positions of regional and international parties towards the threats to maritime navigation in the Bab al-Mandab Strait and the Red Sea. This article complements that series by discussing the impact of these threats on the security of the Arab Gulf states and their options to confront them, as well as their major challenges.

To begin with, there are three important entrances to analyze these threats. Firstly, maritime navigation threats in that region have not been linked to dramatic regional security developments in recent months but have been ongoing for years, alternating between tension and calm according to the regional security situation itself. Secondly, it reaffirms the concept of common threats reflecting the intertwining of interests of countries unprecedentedly. In other words, there is no country that does not need maritime trade within extended distances, facing significant risks to its commerce, thus emphasizing the importance of international alliances to confront such challenges. Thirdly, conflicts between states and non-state actors are shifting from land to the sea, which is characterized by completely different nature and rules, not to mention the use of technology in these confrontations.

Therefore, maritime security threats in the Bab al-Mandab Strait and the Red Sea pose a huge challenge to the Arab Gulf states from multiple angles. Firstly, the study does not consider the Gulf Arab states merely as maritime countries but as gateways that offer opportunities and impose obligations related to maintaining the regularity of trade through the strategic passages facing those countries and serving as communication arteries with the rest of the world. Secondly, the impact of maritime conflicts on the geostrategic scene is not merely disputes over maritime boundaries like in other areas but a transfer of conflicts from land to sea involving states and groups, which entails a scene not devoid of complexity through actions and counteractions whose effects may not be temporary but perhaps lead to security arrangements affecting the region in accordance or conflict with its interests. Thirdly, the debate is reopened about the concept of regional security and whether it still includes neighboring countries alone or extends to geostrategic extensions such as the African Horn and the Eastern Mediterranean. While it’s true that the Gulf Arab states have not been far from these extensions in recent years, the question is whether that was temporary policies or part of a comprehensive and integrated strategy.

Dr. Ashraf Keshk, Senior Research Fellow

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