Rising sectarian extremism is the greatest challenge to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Bahrain's interior minister has said.
"The greatest internal threat to Gulf security is sectarian extremism and unfortunately, Iran is stoking it," Shaikh Rashid Bin Abdullah Al Khalifa said in a key speech to the delegates at the "Arabian Gulf Security: Regional facts and International Interests" conference in Bahrain.
"Religious extremism was built on exploiting religion and its interpretations for political purposes. We are particularly monitoring the possible impact on the Gulf security of this phenomenon which has damaged the image that people have about Islam and Muslims and made them associate it with terrorism," he said.
Awareness in the GCC about the dangerous challenges to their common destiny has prompted the member countries to stand united at a time when the Arabs lack unity and cohesion and the Arab entity could be dissolved in a different regional system, he said.
Shaikh Rashid said that security in the Gulf region had new dimensions following the emergence of multiple sources of security threats.
"In addition, there is instability in some countries and the rise of some movements and the fall of others. This state of confusion has encouraged Iran to seek regional expansion in the military, political and media areas," he said.
However, Shaikh Rashid told the delegates that the changes have put the US role in the area under a new light.
"All these changes have cast doubt about how serious the US ally is in achieving security in the Gulf region, particularly following the 2008 global financial crisis," he said.
"The US Administration is preoccupied with economic domestic issues, the policy of reducing dependence on oil from the Middle East and the new strategic priority to the Far East and the Pacific region," he said.
Shaikh Rashid said that the UAE islands of Abu Mousa, Lesser Tumb and Greater Tumb were not a border issue.
"The issue of the three UAE islands is not a matter of borders. We have here occupied Arab lands and we all stand by the UAE to recover them through all possible means within the international law," he said.
Bahrain and the other member states of the GCC have regularly called upon Iran to accept a diplomatic solution over the islands or to take the issue of the islands to the International court of Justice in The Hague.