Do We Really Need An “Arab-NATO”?

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Though Arab countries are aware of Tehran’s ambitions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, not all consider Tehran a real threat to their political and economic interests. It would be too naïve to say that Egypt is ready to start a military spat with Tehran, not Ethiopia. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the idea of forming an Arab NATO is not on the table. Even Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are less interested in a confrontation with Iran. All they need is to get reassured that Washington considers their security concerns.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addressed permanent representatives to the Arab League in Cairo on July 24, 2022. AFP.

The UAE announced its plan to reinstate its ambassador to Iran despite its prolonged spat with Tehran. The Emirates’ ambassador to Iran, Saif Mohammed Al Zaabi, will return to Tehran in the coming days to “continue pushing bilateral relations forward to achieve the common interests of the two neighbours and the region,” the Times of Israel reveals.

The Emirati move came as Iran and the US announced the revival of the so-called Iranian nuclear deal after months of deadlock. If this tells us anything, American allies are not ready to confront Tehran.

On the domestic level, most, if not all, Arab countries are grappling with soaring prices and waning support, especially with the outbreak of the Ukraine war, and it is a prolonged impact on the world economy. In other words, all Arab countries face domestic pressures that impede any regional efforts to form an Arab military alliance. It is worth noting here that military alliances require spending more resources, which seems unplausible amid soaring inflation rates.

In addition to that, Israel remains a stumbling block to the formation of an Arab military alliance. Though Tel Aviv is getting more integrated with the region, it would be too naïve to say that Riyadh is ready to normalize relations with Israel. The Palestinian cause remains an influential political card for KSA to ramp up its pressure on Tel Aviv.

On top of that, the region lacks the needed leadership. Saudi Arabia is still the leader of the Islamic world, and it is not ready to lead a military alliance. The Arab League is still perceived as a failed project. How can we take the Arab alliance to another level if it fails to achieve it is desired goal in the present time? The Palestinian cause is just the tip of the iceberg.

Mending ties with Israel is not a plausible option, and its consequences would be too hard to bear. If the Israeli-Gulf alliance succeeds in containing Iran, the region will lose the balance of power needed to place a nose around Tel Aviv’s neck. Once Iran is out, Israel will dominate the region. Tel Aviv and Tehran were once friends, too.

Israel knows that Iran’s regional ambitions do not involve attacking Tel Aviv. Considering Iran’s limited deterrence capacity, which does not match that of nuclear weapon states such as Israel, in addition to the implications of initiating an offensive against Israel, it will be fair enough to argue that Iran’s nuclear program will not pose an existential threat to Israel, Nora Maher, a professor at the British University in Egypt, writes.

“The spread of Iranian influence in the region has strengthened Israel’s security and fostered an unprecedented open rapprochement with the Gulf regimes,” Maher added.

She further said, “The challenge for Israel, however, lies in how to continue exporting Iran’s scarecrow to the Gulf States while at the same time encircle Iran’s influence and near-border nuclear and missile activities, therefore, keeping the Iranian threat” at a distance from the Israeli borders.”

 China’s Threat:

While international media outlets have been focusing lately on Biden’s tour in the Middle East and its implications on the security dynamics, the Indo-Pacific is witnessing unprecedented challenges. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan will have undesired consequences on the Asian region and the entire world.

In addition, it would be naïve to say that the US is ready to spend its scarce resources on building an Arab alliance amid growing tensions in the Indo-Pacific. President Joe Biden has been clear that China poses the biggest threat to US existence. Though his latest visit to the Middle East shows that the US can not wish away its old allies in the region, China remains a top priority in US foreign policy.

Beijing has a robust military presence in the region. Months ago, the US claimed that China was building a military facility in Abu Dhabi. In addition, rumours have been spreading that Saudi Arabia is discussing with China the possibility of selling oil in the Chinese Yuan.

Nevertheless, China’s strategy of non-interference, coupled with its good relations with Tehran, impedes greater China-Arab cooperation. Here comes the role of the US. Instead of forming an Arab alliance against Iran, the US should spend more resources on containing China in the region. Addressing the security concerns of its allies in the region is a good step.

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