The announcement last Tuesday (Dec. 15) of the establishment of the Islamic Counterterrorism Coalition (ICTC) did not surprise those familiar with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman’s vision for the region, as outlined before the GCC Summit a week earlier.
Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the second deputy prime minister and minister of defense, made the announcement early Tuesday morning, that the coalition, which includes most Muslim countries, aims to translate their commitment to combat terrorism into action and become an effective partner in international counterterrorism efforts.
A number of Muslim countries, including Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, are trying to counter terrorism of different kinds and from different sources, largely on their own. The coalition thus seeks to solidify such individual efforts. A joint operations room is being set up in Riyadh to coordinate coalition members’ efforts, with each member contributing according to its means. It will also enhance those efforts by coordinating closely with international partners and developing new approaches to combating terrorism in Muslim countries.
The coalition seeks also to coordinate efforts on “designating” terrorist organizations, because it is not limited to fighting Daesh or Al-Qaeda. Combating terrorism is not going to be only through military action or police work, but will also focus on targeting their finances, recruitment and messaging.
ICTC announcement was thus consistent with King Salman’s vision for the GCC, which was endorsed by the recent GCC summit held in Riyadh on Dec. 9-10. The vision included five main tracks: Economic and social track, legal and organizational track, in addition to military, internal security, and foreign policy tracks. Last week, I addressed (in Arab News) the first two tracks. Today I will discuss the remaining three in light of the ICTC announcement.
The security track of King Salman’s vision calls for accelerating the process of security integration between GCC members, by completing the establishment of GCC Police and other GCC-wide security networks, and tasking them with integrating GCC efforts to fight terrorism, money laundering, espionage, smuggling, human trafficking and organized crime. To facilitate such integration GCC security legal frameworks have also to be completed and strengthened.
The Riyadh Declaration of Dec. 10 made it clear that the task of countering terrorism and extremism was a shared international responsibility and that GCC member states were determined to stay the course and do their share, as well as coordinate their efforts with those of fellow Arab and Muslim states and international partners. The ICTC was a first and important step to fulfill that vision.
On the military track, King Salman’s vision also sought to accelerate integration between GCC members “to enhance their ability to protect their people and territory against any external aggression,” which would include terrorist threats. Completing the remaining steps toward the formation of the joint military command, agreed two years ago, is a necessary step in that integration.
The Riyadh Declaration and the final communiqué, also issued at the conclusion of the GCC summit on Dec. 10, together with King Salman’s vision and opening remarks on Dec. 9, all point to a clear consensus around his vision on military and security integration, but also on a shared position toward regional crises and the determination to continue support for neighboring countries to regain their security and stability and fight terrorism and extremism.
The GCC position appears anchored on firm belief that political solutions are key to solving regional problems. At the same time, and until such solutions are reached, the GCC emphasizes the need to protect civilians from brutalization by terrorists, militias and illegitimate regimes. To that end, the Syrian Opposition Conference, convened by Saudi Arabia in Riyadh (Dec. 8-10) enabled Syria’s moderate opposition to present a unified front to negotiate a political solution according to (Geneva 1) formula, and coordinate relief and protection for Syrian civilians.
The ICTC will be one more effective tool in policymakers’ kit to address the crisis in Syria and other festering regional problems.