Defense Department representatives will sit down today with partners in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, during a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting to discuss ongoing and mutual security concerns in the Middle East, including those posed by Iran.

“The region is experiencing one of its most challenging periods in recent years,” said a senior defense official on Monday. “Threats from Iran and its proxies are pervasive, demonstrated by an unprecedented number of Iran-backed attacks since October, such as the 175 Iranian-aligned militia group attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, Syria and Jordan; more than 90 Houthi attacks against international shipping in the Red Sea; and more.” 

Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council include the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait. The council first met in 1981 to strengthen relations among the member states.  

The U.S. last participated in talks with the GCC in February 2023. During today’s discussions, representatives from the Joint Staff, U.S. Central Command, Naval Forces Central Command, Air Forces Central Command, the Missile Defense Agency, and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency are participating in two working groups, including one on maritime security and the other on air and missile defense. 

“In the maritime security working group, we’ll focus heavily on these Houthi terrorist attacks against international shipping, which have used an unprecedented array of anti-ship ballistic missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles, one-way attack UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles], unmanned surface vehicles, and unmanned underwater vehicles,” the senior defense official said. “These attacks endanger freedom of navigation and the lives of innocent mariners.” 

More than 24 nations are now participating in the U.S.-led “Prosperity Guardian” mission in the Red Sea to counter Iranian-backed, Houthi-led attacks on merchant and naval vessels. 

“[Those attacks] have resulted in the kidnapping and deaths of innocents, immense property destruction, and environmental despoliation and immense hardship for the peoples of the nations of the Red Sea,” the official said. “These attacks are not just a U.S. problem. They impact the entirety of the region, and they have global ramifications. So, we look forward to discussing how we can expand cooperation with our Gulf partners to mitigate the Houthi threat to maritime security.” 

Last month, on April 13, Iran and its proxy groups launched more than 300 airborne weapons at targets in Israel, but the U.S., Israeli and partner forces destroyed a significant portion of those before they reached their targets. 

Among the weapons launched from locations in Iran, Syria and Yemen were over 110 medium-range ballistic missiles, more then 30 land-attack cruise missiles, and more than 150 uncrewed aerial vehicles. 

During the meeting, the U.S. will also participate in the integrated air and missile defense working group, which the official said now takes on more significance in light of those Iranian missile launches at Israel. 

“This attack really was a watershed moment in the Middle East, the official said. “Together with our partners, we … successfully defeated Iran’s attack, and that’s a stark testament to the value of integrated air and missile defense and its vital importance for regional stability.” 

The official said the attack — and the defeat of that attack by partners in the Middle East — demonstrated what can be achieved by partnerships, such as the ones the U.S. has with some Middle East nations. 

“It really showcased what we’re collectively capable of when we work together on defeating regional security threats,” he said. “Ironically, … April 13, which was really a proof-of-concept of integrated air and missile defense, was ultimately successful in sparking a deeper cooperation among our partners. Iran’s destabilizing and dangerous behavior has given a newfound urgency and newfound energy to convene this working group and build out the elements of integrated air and missile defense.” 

Discussions within the integrated air and missile defense working group will include, among other topics, multilateral efforts to counter existing threats, expansion of air and missile defense early warning systems, and the sharing of information to ensure a common air picture. 

“We’ll focus on improving U.S. and GCC interoperability and integration to ensure that the region is postured to counter, to deter, and to defeat air and maritime threats and ultimately to advance peace and security in the region,” the official said. “Our basic message as we head into these discussions is: ‘We’re stronger when we act together.'”

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