Riyadh (Agencies): The US is stepping up defense cooperation with Gulf Cooperation Council countries in a bid to address one of the region’s “most challenging periods in recent years,” Dan Shapiro, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy, told a press briefing on Wednesday.

Gulf military representatives on Wednesday met senior US officials at the GCC headquarters in Riyadh as part of the partnership’s maritime and missile defense working groups.

It comes a month after Iran launched a massive drone and ballistic missile strike at Israel, and amid simmering regional tensions over the Gaza war.

Conversations between GCC and US officials are “more important than ever,” said Shapiro. “The US-GCC defense working groups are rooted in a strong US partnership with the GCC and our collective commitment to cooperating on regional security issues,” he added.

“For over a decade, we’ve worked together to address pressing threats and crises. The US has an interest in deepening the partnerships we’ve forged with our Gulf partners.”
Shapiro, who previously served as US ambassador to Israel and Abraham Accords envoy, warned that “the threats from Iran and its proxies are pervasive” in the region.
He said Yemen’s Houthi militia is carrying out “utterly illegitimate acts of terrorism” in its Red Sea campaign against civilian shipping.

The working group meetings saw US and Gulf officials explore ways to “bolster information sharing, counter proliferation, and increase the effectiveness of combined interdictions of illegal maritime shipments to the Houthis,” he added.

The April 13 Iranian attack on Israel, which Shapiro said was a “watershed moment in the Middle East,” also loomed large in the meetings.

“In the wake of Iran’s unprecedented attack and our successful defeat of this attack, the US and our Gulf partners agreed that taking steps to deepen the integration of our air and missile defenses across the Middle East is more important than ever,” he added.

“On April 13, we showcased what we’re collectively capable of when we work together on defeating regional security threats.

“It was a proof of concept of integrated air and missile defense, showing that our work to build this architecture isn’t theoretical.

“It has real-world, real-time impact. It saves lives and it keeps conflicts from escalating. And it showed we’re stronger when we act together.

“Ironically, Iran’s attack on April 13 was ultimately successful in sparking deeper cooperation on integrated air and missile defense.”

Shapiro said Washington’s Gulf partners, by increasing integrated air and missile defense in the near term, hope to lay the foundations for a GCC-wide air defense system.
US officials at the working group meetings also proposed joint military training “to ensure that our forces share a common operational language,” he added.

At the press briefing, a senior US defense official said on condition of anonymity that Washington’s Gulf partners are “laser focused” on understanding the nature of the Iranian threat, adding: “Having that conversation with the GCC in May 2024 is completely different from any conversation you could’ve had with any partner in the region before April 13, 2024.”

The Iranian strike produced a “galvanizing effect” across the Gulf, encouraging states to boost their commitment to building shared defense systems, the official said.
On the flare-up in the Red Sea, Washington does not view its campaign against the Houthis as a “purely military challenge,” instead accepting that “military solutions are necessary but not sufficient,” the official added.

“It’s a whole-of-government challenge from the US perspective. And it’s an international challenge from the world perspective.”
The working group meetings in Riyadh also saw discussions on “some of the non-military ways” to target the militia, including “delegitimization, sanctions and condemnation, and designation as a global terrorist organization,” the official said.

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