Speech of the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Manama Dialogue 2015
It is a great pleasure to join my Good friends His Excellency Ibrahim Al Jaffari and the Honourable Anthony Blinken in this Plenary Session. I would like to thank my dear friends Dr. John Chipman, Professor François Heisbourg, and the rest of the IISS team for organizing the 11th Manama Dialogue and for their tireless efforts year after year.
Of all the challenges we face in the region, no challenge is more pressing than the situation in Syria, it is perhaps the crisis of the decade, and the effects of this crisis are not limited to this region, as you all well know. The key challenge in Syria is not merely the existence of terrorist groups such as Daesh, Hezbollah, and Jabhat al Nusra, the emergence of these groups is a symptom of what is wrong in Syria, not the primary cause.
The challenge in Syria is the loss of Syrian unity and the disintegration of the tolerant societal bonds that held a multi sect Levant together for hundreds of years. A vacuum was created in Syria when the response to popular demonstrations in 2011 resulted in the destruction of cities and the displacement of millions of innocent Syrians, this vacuum allowed Daesh to establish strongholds, and then use those territories as a launching pad for their invasion of Iraq. The deteriorating situation in Syria left normal Syrians suddenly facing a world where the sect you happened to be born into could possibly determine whether you lived or died.
This vacuum was filled not only by terrorist organizations, but also by regional states seeking their own hegemonic aims. Commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, routinely led regime forces and Hezbollah fighters in combat operations against Syrian rebel factions.
We believe the solution in Syria must be based on returning the Syrians to a state of unity as soon as possible. However, the large number of Syrians fleeing the country complicates this. We must aim to give Syrians enough hope and belief to remain in Syria and work towards building a better future. The best way to achieve this is through the process outlined in the Geneva I peace conference. World powers along with regional states must work to set up a transitional governing body that preserves the civilian and military state institutions and includes all relevant Syrian groups, this can then pave the way for Syrians to decide the future of their country. We must approach this political solution with the same determination and effort as the fight against terrorists, only then can we achieve the desired results.
There are those who will say that we must defeat Daesh first before any of this can take place. But Daesh can only be defeated by a unified Syrian front against it; the presence of Daesh in Syria is not an impediment to a political solution between the Syrians, it is what makes the necessity of a political solution all the more pressing.
The continuing proliferation of terrorist organizations in the region remains a serious concern. Besides Iraq, Daesh has expanded its operations into places like Libya and Nigeria through declarations of loyalty by already established terrorist organizations and the establishment of so called ‘Wilayat’. Daesh has also claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks on mosques in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, giving us a glimpse of the type of organization Daesh could evolve into even if it is defeated militarily in Syria and Iraq.
But Daesh is not the only terrorist threat we face in the region. Over the past couple of years, the Islamic Republic of Iran has provided sanctuary and financial support for those charged with conducting terrorist acts in GCC states. Closer to home, Iran has hosted Bahraini citizens in IRGC training camps where potential terrorists learn skills such as IED construction, marksmanship, and weapons smuggling. Iran has also conducted smuggling operations to bring in explosives and weapons including C-4, claymore mines, and AK-47 assault rifles.
As a result, over the past couple of years 439 IEDs have been found and safely disposed, or have exploded causing injuries killing 16 police officers and injuring thousands. These actions along with the terrorist attacks conducted by Hezbollah and their proxies across the region are no less a threat to us than Daesh and Al-Qaeda.
As far as better relations with our neighbour to the east, the ball is firmly in Iran’s side of the field. We in Bahrain and the GCC have repeatedly expressed our willingness to engage and improve our relations with Iran, we sincerely believe this to be mutually beneficial. But not at the expense of regional stability and certainly not when Iranian officials publicly boast about having captured four Arab capitals through their “Iranian Islamic Revolution”.
The international community must come together, just as it did to contain, and hopefully pacify Iran’s nuclear program, to put an end to Iran’s interference in the affairs of regional states. We must not underestimate the damage to regional stability caused by Iran’s actions in the region. If we are not serious enough about this, I am afraid we will remain in a state of conflict indefinitely.
The GCC is committed to shouldering more of the burden in ensuring regional security. This is not a sudden policy shift; it is a policy that has been developing over more than a decade. As GCC capabilities increase, so too will our share of regional responsibilities. This is most evident in our military involvement in Yemen. I would like to make it very clear that the GCC military intervention in Yemen was not taken lightly, it was our final option and we are not intent on continuing military operations a day longer than necessary.
The reason we intervened is that the Houthis, after having taken part in the political process, reneged on their commitments, and decided to capture Yemen by force, taking the Yemeni people hostage to their political ambition. We simply could not stand back and allow an extremist proxy movement with ties to Iran and Hezbollah to take over Yemen.
The GCC’s military intervention is not solely to counter Iranian influence. We had to intervene to stop Yemen from sliding into an imminent civil war and almost certain breakup. Moreover, a dominant Houthi insurgency that does not play by the rules and demands more than its fair share of power threatens the fragile political balance in Yemen exacerbating already challenging economic and environmental challenges.
I would like to assure everybody that the GCC is as concerned as anyone about the humanitarian situation in Yemen. We are committed to doing everything it takes to improve the lives of Yemenis and to alleviate the immediate effects of the current conflict. Saudi Arabia and the rest of the GCC have, through the newly established King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre, contributed large quantities of humanitarian aid to Yemen and we urge the international community to join us in providing much needed aid and assistance. Aden airport is open, the Seaports are operational and the only items not allowed into Yemen are weapons that could be used by the Houthis, There are no restrictions on any other items.
The real obstacle in getting the aid to where its needed is the fighting in Houthi controlled areas, the problem is not with the coalition, it is with the Houthi rebels who refuse to stop the fighting, or let any aid, or commercial goods through. We are committed to a long-term political solution in Yemen, The Houthis can have a future in Yemen so long as they lay down their arms, abandon ties to terrorists and participate in the legitimate political process.
Given the delicate situation in the region, the last thing we need is violence at the Al-Aqsa mosque complex, which has the potential to anger almost a third of the world’s population. It is the Israeli government’s responsibility to maintain the long-standing agreement with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan regarding jurisdiction of the Al-Aqsa mosque complex and to prevent all those who seek to incite violence from entering.
In Summation, I would like to reiterate the commitment of Bahrain and the GCC to maintaining peace and stability in the region. We continue to work closely with our valued partners and allies to this end. We do not seek conflict, but if the security of our region is threatened, we will not hesitate to use all means at our disposal to ensure peace and security.