Around 100 years of the region’s history is made up of changing camps and shifting alliances and what is being said about the idea of proposing an Arab quartet NATO will be another normal reaction against Iran’s active tripartite alliance.
It has been said that the Arab military alliance resembles the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which was established in the wake of Soviet expansion. The NATO was the western military power, which confronted the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
How can Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Jordan establish a joint military power to confront Iran’s expansion after it expanded its presence to Iraq and Syria and after its influence reached Lebanon and Yemen?
These four Arab countries have been allied for a long time now. All of them participate in the Yemen war in varying degrees. The UAE’s army has been fighting alongside the Saudi troops on the ground since the beginning while Jordan has strong military ties with all three countries. However, even with this cooperation, we cannot view this close relation as similar to the NATO in its concept and nature of commitments.
In our region, there has been major political vacuum and imbalance in the regional military power, particularly during the past eight years. What worsened this imbalance is the decline of US’s commitments to the region and signing the nuclear deal with Iran. This deal represents reconciliation and the end of confrontation between the two countries.
This vacuum resulted in Iran’s expansion of its influence inside Iraq, engaging in a major military war in Syria and forming – for the first time ever – an army of militias, which it sent to Syria. Iran is also trying hard to keep the war ignited in Yemen by supporting the coup.
If the idea of an Arab NATO or Arab quartet cooperation becomes a reality, it will be made public and it will not be a secret project as recent reports have suggestedAbdulrahman al-Rashed
What is being said about the proposed Arab NATO cooperation with Israel is just perceptions that precede the alliance, which hasn’t been formed yet. Even if we assume this is true, the cooperation, if it remains a secret, will be limited and it will not be possible to count on it.
Israel is usually present in the region’s disputes even if its presence is limited and silent. It is present in Syria’s war, once shelling Hezbollah’s targets, another attacking ISIS groups, and it sometimes supplies different parties with information that helps them.
An Israeli expert said they were happy to see thousands of Hezbollah fighters get involved in the war in Syria as they hid underground when Israeli forces fought them in Lebanon and adopted guerrilla tactics but today they are playing the Israeli role in Syria.
An essential balance
If the idea of an Arab NATO or Arab quartet cooperation becomes a reality, it will be made public and it will not be a secret project as recent reports have suggested.
Military cooperation, under any umbrella, is a good idea and a necessary step especially if expanded beyond that. Establishing an alliance to confront Iran is an essential balance to respond to its military alliance that includes Iraq and Syria.
Iran also cooperates with Russia and the latter has a military base in Iran. The Russians strongly participate in the war in Syria alongside this Iranian alliance. Tehran has strengthened its alliance by bringing armed militias from Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon and other countries into Syria and they are fighting there under its banner.
Iranian forces, in the guise of “experts”, are fighting in Iraq and to some extent manage the conflict there. Therefore, establishing an Arab NATO, even if achieved, remains a natural reaction to Iran’s Warsaw pact.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat on February 21 2017.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former 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. He tweets @aalrashed.