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The Arab Coalition Means ‘Middle East without the US’

The Arab Coalition Means ‘Middle East without the US’

Wednesday, 13 July, 2022 - 04:15
Camelia Entekhabifard
Editor-in-chief of the Independent Persian.

On the eve of US President Joe Biden’s trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, there is much speculation around this trip and the topics that will be discussed there.


According to Israel, Iran is amongst the central topics of the trip. The Persian-language media, pointing to the failure of talks aimed at reviving the Iran Deal of 2015, speak of plans for the creation of a regional coalition. This coalition is often dubbed the “Arab NATO” which is supposed to bring Israel together with the Arab states of the Arabian Gulf.


But we should recall that tis plan dates back to the Obama administration. Before signing the Iran Deal, he invited the leaders of GCC countries to Camp David; four of these leaders refused to take part in the summit to show their protest against Obama’s Iran policy.


When Emirs of Qatar and Kuwait and foreign ministers of the four other GCC countries showed up in Camp David, Obama wanted to reassure them that, if necessary for the defense of its regional allies, the US will use all options, including a military option, against Iran. But Obama’s suggestions were met coldly with regional countries and, following the Iran Deal, the countries waited for Iran to initiate a rapprochement.


When Donald Trump took office, the plans for the Arab NATO were discussed openly. In February 2017, only a month after, the Wall Street Journal published a report about the forming of this Arab regional pact and of the support of security and intelligence bodies of US and Israel for the formation of an Arab military coalition known as the Arab NATO.


When Arab countries organized a sizable war games in Egypt, many believed this to be a strategic union of regional Arab countries or the very ‘Arab NATO’ that had been talked about; In other words, a military pact to counter Iranian threats.


Three months later, Trump travelled to Saudi Arabia. In this trip, he was able to sell 110-billion-dollar-worth of weapons to Riyadh and other countries present in the Egyptian war games, including the United Arab Emirates.


Now, once more on the eve of Biden’s trip to the region, there is news about the possibility of creating a coalition in the region, this time including Israel. The signing of the Abraham Accords under Trump (between Israel and GCC members UAE and Bahrain) has led to speculations about a coalition that goes beyond Arab NATO and would also include Israel.


Western analysts consider the situation in the region to be deeply troubling given the threats that the Iranian regime poses against countries of the region via its militias or the speed of the expansion of its nuclear program. But the US behavior in a specific period (around 20 years) shows that the US has followed a strategy of reducing its military forces in the region and thus reducing its military costs This has been true during the Democratic administrations of Obama and Biden and the Republican administration of Trump.


The US policy on Syrian crisis, on the Houthis of Yemen and even its appeasement of the Islamic Republic changed the understanding of regional countries of the current events and the amount of support and dependence they must receive from the West and the US specifically. Whenever there is talk of an Arab coalition against Iranian threats, what is really meant is delegating the security of the region to regional countries and selling more arms to help the lucrative trade of US weapons manufacturers.


The plan for an Arab NATO against the Iranian regime also has problems that are clear to the regional countries. For instance, even though Qatar has economic and political relations with Israel, it also has equally good relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. At the other hand, Saudis don’t have relations with Israel and have repeatedly declared that such relations are subject to acceptance of the plan of late King Abdullah for the formation of a Palestinian state and Israel’s return to the 1967 borders. Iraq, despite its close relations with the US, also has very friendly relations with Iran. In the Arab war games in Egypt, Qatar didn’t take part. When Trump promised the formation of Middle East Strategic Alliance or MESA in 2018, the relevant clauses didn’t mention the countries that were to join this coalition.


Thus, for some Arab countries membership in such a coalition is not possible and it won’t come through even if it has US support and is in the interest of regional countries.


The relations of UAE, Bahrain and Morocco with Israel is a diplomatic question and economic ties form an important part of it. Thus, for expansion of economic ties, there must also be security ties. According to this perspective, there is a need for security cooperation between these countries and Israel. But it is too soon for them to work together to form the Arab NATO.


The Islamic Republic will turn to provocative actions because it sees the weakness and reluctance of the Biden administration and wants to score points.


Even though Iran and Russia were united in the Syrian war and even though Iran is now standing on the side of Russia in the Ukrainian crisis, Tehran and Moscow have many differences. Their interests contradict each other in Central Asia on a variety of issues: from divisions of the Caspian Sea to the Armenia-Azerbaijan question. On the other hand, Iran considers the war in Ukraine and the involvement of all sides in it as in line with its interests since it allows it to delay any understanding with the West.


China and Russia will not tolerate a nuclear Iran and expansion of Iran’s nuclear program can work to provoke China and Russia and create another leverage against US and the West for them to accept the regime’s demands prior to a deal.


Recent changes in security bodies of the regime, and specifically the IRGC, shows that Iran faces important security gaps and doesn’t see a war in its interest in the current conditions. But it can still conduct terrorist actions including smuggling of weapons and drugs, arming of its militias and hostile actions against the regional countries.


The rulers in Iran are mostly concerned about the Iranian people who are angrily standing up to the regime. Widespread arrest and repression of people and civic activists is due to the rulers’ concern about the uprising of the Iranian people and, whether they get an atomic bomb or not, they know that the main threat for the continuity of their authoritarian rule are the protesting people of Iran.


No coalition in the region — whether Iran’s alliance with Russia or China or US and Israeli attempts to create a coalition with Arab countries — will bring security and calm to the region.


So long as Iran hasn’t stopped its interventions in the region, its arming of terrorists and militias and its pursuit of nuclear weapons; so long as it hasn’t adopted a normal behavior as a country committed to good neighborly relations, this region won’t have security.


The second point necessary for calm in the Middle East is a solution to the Palestinian question. The people of Palestine have rights and they must be able to have their own independent country. As King Abdullah’s plan outlined, Palestinian refugees must be able to go back to their homes and Israel must recognize the UN-established 1967 borders. This will allow the return of calm and security to the region.


The Iranian regime’s need for cash will bring it back to the negotiating table and the US knows that the expansion of nuclear program will lead to competition in the region and Saudi Arabia and Egypt will also have no way to secure their interests other than pursuing nuclear weapons. Thus, in order to prevent a nuclear Middle East that would threaten the existence of Israel, the US must come to a deal with Iran. No one in the region desires another war and another conflict.


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