By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Feb. 13, 2023) -- The Defense Department early this morning led two working groups at the invitation of the Gulf Cooperation Council, including one on air and missile defense and another on maritime security. A takeaway from the discussions is that the U.S. and participating Gulf nations share many of the same security concerns for the region.
"There is a shared assessment between the United States and the GCC of the threats that face us ... there's an alignment of the threat perception," Dana Stroul, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, said.
The members of the Gulf Cooperation Council are the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait. The council first met in 1981 to strengthen relations among the member states.
Chief among those threats, she said, are those posed by Iran. Included there is the proliferation of Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles to non-state actors across the region, which are threats to both civilians of Gulf nations and to U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria who are conducting the counter-ISIS mission.
Iranian aggression at sea also remains a serious concern, Stroul said.
"Needless to say, the work to bring partners together and the increased rate of maritime interdictions, I think, speaks both to the serious nature of the threats we face at sea and to how we can effectively address those threats through increased cooperation," she said.
Discussion within the working groups also turned to military cooperation between Iran and Russia, including the illicit transfer of Iranian weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine and the implications of that for stability and security in the Middle East, Stroul said.
A big takeaway from discussions on air and missile defense, Stroul said, was interest in increased integration between different systems currently used in the Gulf.
"There has been no other moment in time in which the prospect for meaningful integration is more real than today," she said. "It's both because of that alignment of threats that I just went through. And it is also because of emerging technology and the culture of innovation that Centcom [U.S. Central Command] is fostering together with its partners."
Stroul said discussions at the working group centered around the status of air and missile defense systems that are in place, the possibility for increased intelligence sharing and early warning in the future, and evaluation of partners' systems and capabilities to devising a more effective, layered air defense.
"When it comes to maritime security, [U.S. Naval Forces Central Command] is doing incredible work today, expanding maritime domain awareness and bringing together partners through its combined task forces to address threats that we hear from our partners are of tremendous concern," Stroul said.