Arabic NATO is miscarried baby, Biden going Saudi Arabia to revive it

Arabic NATO is miscarried baby, Biden going Saudi Arabia to revive it
Arabic NATO is miscarried baby, Biden going Saudi Arabia to revive it

American newspaper Bloomberg has written in its report that Arabic NATO is a miscarried baby, to save whom President Biden is going to Saudi Arabia.

It is the reddest of red herrings in the Middle East: the notion of a regional security alliance against common enemies. This idea has resurfaced ahead of President Joe Biden’s planned visit to Jeddah next month, amid reports of closer security cooperation between the US, Israel and Gulf Arab states against the threat of Iran.

Last week, Jordan’s King Abdullah II said he would support the formation of a Middle Eastern version of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In an interview with CNBC, he added a caveat: “The mission statement has to be very, very clear. Otherwise, it confuses everybody.” The Israelis are keen on such an alliance, and the Biden administration would likely approve — not least to shield the president from criticism in Congress for being too conciliatory toward Tehran.

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If the argument for a Middle Eastern NATO sounds perfectly reasonable, it is rendered utterly risible by the political and military realities of the region. The countries that would make up such an alliance have struggled to define common security goals, never mind common foes. Most of them have militaries that are designed to protect their regimes from internal challenges, rather than external enemies. They may be adept at beating up unarmed democracy activists, but have a poor record in kinetic conflicts.

These factors have defeated several previous attempts to build military alliances in the region. There have been two non-starters in the past seven years: A 2015 Arab League plan for a combined anti-terrorism force; and a 2017 proposal for a Middle East Security Alliance, or MESA, proposed by Saudi Arabia — and given full-throated backing by President Donald Trump. (It was inevitably dubbed “the Arab NATO.”)

There have been two important developments since those failures. First, Israel has normalized relations with some Arab states and is moving toward similar arrangements with others, which means the Israel Defense Forces will likely be part of any new alliance. Second, the so-called danger posed by Iran is clearer and more potent than ever.
Iran is on the brink of nuclear weapons capability, having built a substantial stockpile of uranium enriched well past the point of civilian use. The Biden administration believes that the threat can be blunted by reviving the 2015 nuclear deal Iran struck with the world powers.

Read More:President Biden breaks Saudi ‘pariah’ pledge to talk oil with crown prince

Bloomberg aded: You would think this would be reason enough for the countries menaced by Iran to get serious about a regional military alliance. But although they are cooperating more closely on security issues, the Israelis and Arabs have different threat perceptions about Iran as well as different strategies on how to deal with Tehran. This muddies any hopes of the “very, very clear” mission King Abdullah has in mind.

Qatar and Oman enjoy good relations with Iran. Kuwait maintains cautious ties with Tehran. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are wary of Iran, but having had their noses bloodied in conflict with Tehran’s proxy militia in Yemen, they are now keener on accommodation than confrontation. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi and have been conducting fairly open negotiations with the regime in Tehran.

Tiny Bahrain tends to go along with Saudi Arabia on security and foreign policy issues. Yemen is wracked by civil war between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the internationally recognized government, which is supported by a Saudi-led Arab coalition.

The Gulf Arab countries do have a simulacrum of a joint military force: Known as the “Peninsula Shield,” it has a strength of 40,000 and is well equipped, thanks to the petrodollars of the participating states. What it doesn’t have is any serious combat experience. It would neither stiffen the sinews of any anti-Tehran alliance nor send any shivers down Iranian spines.

Read More:Tehran steps up diplomacy ahead of Biden trip to region

Of the Arab nations in the Levant, Syria has become an Iranian satrapy and Lebanon and Iraq seem headed in that direction. Jordan’s Abdullah has consistently warned about Iran’s growing influence in the region, but his tiny military force can at best play a bit part in any alliance, as it has in the anti-Houthi coalition.

The largest Arab security forces belong to states in North Africa, which have historically regarded the threat from Tehran with degrees of ambivalence corresponding to their distance from Iran. Egypt, the largest of them all, was the first to bolt from the ill-fated MESA project.

All this means that the task of holding back Iran, whatever the outcome of the nuclear negotiations, will fall mainly to the US and Israel. Any proposal for a Middle Eastern NATO is a dead baby.

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