Arab states to form joint military force to combat Jihadists, Iran’s influence in region

Middle EastArab states to form joint military force to combat Jihadists, Iran’s influence in region

Published 30 March 2015

The leaders of the Arab League announced yesterday (Sunday) that they were forming a joint military force to fight fundamentalist Sunni Jihadist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. It was also clear that the joint force would tackle pro-Iranian Shi’a groups which are helping Iran to expand its regional influence. Arab allies of the United States see the proposed nuclear accord with Iran as a betrayal of U.S. commitment to their security. Egyptian security officials have said the proposed force announced on Sunday would be made of up to 40,000 elite troops based in either Cairo or Riyadh. It would be backed by fighter jets, warships, and light armor.

The leaders of the Arab League announced yesterday (Sunday) that they were forming a joint military force to fight fundamentalist Sunni Jihadists groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. It was also clear, however, that the joint force would tackle pro-Iranian Shi’a groups which are helping Iran expand its regional influence.

The announcement was made by Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, on the final day of the Arab League summit.

“The Arab leaders have decided to agree on the principle of a joint Arab military force,” Sisi said.

“The challenges facing our national Arab security are grave, and we have succeeded in diagnosing the reasons behind it,” Sisi said, without specifying those reasons. The meeting, he added, was “pumping the blood of hope in the arteries of Arab cooperation.”

Nabil al-Arabi, the secretary general of the Arab League, said the decision was made primarily with the need to combat Jihadists who now control large parts of Iraq and Syria, and who now have a presence in North Africa.

Arabi told the meeting on Sunday that the Middle East was under attack by a destructive force which threatened “ethnic and religious diversity.”

The New York Times reports that the summit also agreed to support Saudi-led military action in Yemen, and Arabi told journalists that the Saudi air strikes would continue until Iran-supported Shi’a Houthi rebels “withdraw and surrender their weapons.”

Arabi read a final summit communique outlining the leaders’ views. “Yemen was on the brink of the abyss, requiring effective Arab and international moves after all means of reaching a peaceful resolution have been exhausted to end the Houthi coup and restore legitimacy,” he said.

Saudi brigadier general Ahmed bin Hasan Asiri said that the Saudi sustained air strikes, which began last Thursday, have pushed Houthi insurgents out of contested airbases and destroyed any fighter jets remaining in Yemen. The Saudis destroyed the Yemeni Air Force’s planes on the ground and in their hangars to prevent the Houthis from seizing them.

The strikes also continued to target the Yemeni military’s Scud missiles, destroying most of their launching pads. Asiri said, however, that the rebels may control more missiles.

Egyptian security officials have said the proposed force announced on Sunday would be made of up to 40,000 elite troops based in either Cairo or Riyadh. It would be backed by fighter jets, warships, and light armor.

The Times notes that it is unlikely that all 22-member countries of the often-fractious Arab League will contribute troops to the proposed force. The creation of such a force has been a longtime goal of the Arab League, but it has eluded the organization in the sixty-five years since its members signed a joint defense agreement.

The idea of a joint military force “has been there before but not so seriously,” Gamal Abdel Gawad Soltan, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo, told the Times. He noted that Arab joint defense treaties date to 1950 and a joint military command was previously formed for a time in the mid-1960s. That was during the era of Pan-Arab nationalism, when Arab governments joined forces against Israel. That vision ended in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, with the humiliating defeat of the Arab armies.

“It is the renewal of an old idea,” Soltan said, “but this time the level of seriousness looks higher, even if we do not know yet whether the outcome this time will be different than in the past.”

The announcement declares that the purpose of the Arab joint force is to fight the Jihadists, but analysts note that there is little doubt that the growing influence of Iran in the region, and the need to check it, were also behind to idea of the moderate Sunni states creating a joint military force. Saudi Arabia and other American allies in the region have made it clear that in light of what they perceive as growing coordination between the United States and Iran, they would be seeking to strengthen independent regional security measures. Arab allies of the United States see the proposed nuclear accord with Iran as a betrayal of U.S. commitment to their security.

They note, as Israel has, that irrespective of Iran’s nuclear program, the nuclear agreement would do nothing to stop Iran from continuing, even more energetically, to seek the expansion of its influence around the region by actively supporting local favored factions, as it has done in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen.

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