The concept of Arab military intervention

While political battles in recent history were limited, they have changed since the so-called Arab Spring

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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In recent history, political battles were limited. Most of the time, each epoch was distinguished by a single crisis. A crisis in a country would not extend to neighboring states for objective reasons: the political situation was governed by regional centers, the borders of the drawn region had their sanctity and above these was international recognition of the status quo. Therefore the Lebanese Civil War lasted for a decade and a half without being exported. The same applies to Iraq when in 1990 Saddam Hussein’s regime was besieged and then toppled in 2003. Iraq’s crisis lasted for 18 years without expanding beyond its borders to the rest of the region.

However, this changed following the so-called Arab Spring. The protests in Tunisia were echoed in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen, and armies of foreign fighters are now being transported across borders to at least four Arab countries. Civil wars are no longer contained within the borders of their countries. The terrorism in Libya has reached Egypt’s Sinai and the west of Tunisia. The organization of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is moving between Syria and Lebanon and the fighting is ongoing on the borders with Turkey for the first time since World War II. Hezbollah members are fighting in Syria and the borders between Syria and Iraq have practically fallen to terrorist groups. There is sweeping chaos and it is no longer possible for any country to think it is safe from it.

Due to the simultaneous crises and the difficulty of sensing how they evolve, the experiment in Libya suggests to us a method that may be suitable for some troubled spots, if not to impose peace then at least contain the crisis. It’s clear that Egypt, Algeria and other countries have been recently active on the military and political levels to end chaos and support legitimacy there. Although the situation hasn’t stabilized yet, we can mark this as the first time we can see signs of a regional agreement to resort to military and political power in Libya to end the chaos and bloodshed.

Regional military intervention has its conditions. The first of these conditions is to attain some sort of legitimacy. There is a recognized government and an elected parliament in Libya. However, several armed groups confront these legitimate but worn-out institutions and several foreign powers want to impose their tutelage in order to establish the regime of their choice. Another condition of this limited regional intervention is the presence of some sort of military and security institutions because their absence would make it impossible to engage in battles on the ground. This condition is hardly available in Libya. If Arab military intervention in Libya succeeds, it may be the only remedy to end the chaos.

Regional military intervention has its conditions. The first of these conditions is to attain some sort of legitimacy.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The question is: Can this experience be repeated in Yemen, Iraq and Syria?

Maybe it can be repeated in Yemen if security collapses in the capital, Sanaa. The U.N. Security Council has given its attention to Yemen and adopted a political solution, the implementation of which requires military aid to protect the Yemeni army’s back and support it with data and equipment. Saudi Arab and Jordan jointly worked together in the 1960’s war until revolting powers and other groups who were supported by foreign parties were forced to accept a compromise that finally ended Yemen’s civil war.

Will we witness Saudi-Jordanian military cooperation in Yemen? Maybe not, as there are still chances to politically reorganize the situation and reach compromises that grant participation to everyone. The idea of military support, and not necessarily direct intervention on the ground, may be one of the means to control the chaos spreading in every direction and portending of staying for the next 10 or 20 years.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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