The Middle Eastern Cold War is Getting a Bit Warmer – Announcement of Joint Military Force by the Arab League

The recent news over the weekend is surrounding the announcement of a pan-Arabic defense force lead by the Arab League. The announcement came from a two day summit in Cairo, consisting of important world leaders from the 22 member states of the Arab League. The summit resolution said the newly unveiled joint Arab defense force would be deployed at the request of any Arab nation facing a national security threat and that it would also be used to combat terrorist groups. Egyptian military and security officials stated that the intention is for the proposed force to consist of up to 40,000 elite troops backed by jet fighters, warships and light armor. The force would likely be headquartered in either Cairo, Egypt or Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.

There are many questions surrounding the nature of this military confederation, many of them appearing here on Quora – Arab League Joint Military Force Announcement (March 2015). As of right now, though, there are still more questions than answers. Not much is known as most of the plans for the joint military force have yet to be made. The Cairo summit informed the AP that there will be a Chiefs of Staff meeting within the next month and a plan presented within the next four months for the implementation of the force. Whatever is delivered at that time will determine the scope of operations going forward.

Thus far, the stated purpose seems to be to counter “outside parties” and their military agendas within Arab countries. While many Westerners may believe this relates to American and European interests, it was made very clear that this is directed toward meaning Iran. Iranian backed groups, such as the current threat in Yemen, as well as Hezbollah, and the Iranian backed Shia government in Iraq have left the Arab nations feeling pressure, compounded by the blow delivered to it in 2011 via the Arab Spring. Uprisings and protests have riddled the Arab World since that time and, given the recent push by the Shia backed Iran to fill the void. This combination of threats has solidified many of the 22 Arab League members. Recent military successes in Yemen, have also empowered those backing joint military operations.

It has already been acknowledged, however, it is doubtful that all 22 will be part of the force.

However, it is unlikely that all 22 member nations of the often-fractious Arab League will join the proposed force. Creation of such a force has been a longtime goal that has eluded Arab nations in the 65 years since they signed a rarely used joint defense agreement.

Iraq, whose Shiite government is closely allied with non-Arab and Shiite Iran, has said more time is needed to discuss the proposed force.

What we will probably see it used for immediately is to try to stabilize the Yemen conflict in favor of Arab interests. If it has strong lasting power, we may see it act as a counter balance to Iran and forces like their Quds Force. The Quds are a special forces arm of the Iranian military reporting directly to Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei. They are responsible for the Iranian military’s “extraterritorial operations” and reportedly number around 15,000 troops. A good analogy for the Quds would be something comparable to the United States CIA married with the Green Beret and reporting directly to the President while still technically being part of the Department of Defense. Through them, Iran has been able to support military action across multiple agendas throughout the Middle East, most notably through their commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani reportedly taking a prominent role in both the planning & execution of the offensive to liberate Tikrit from ISIL.

Currently, there is no such Arab answer in the Middle East with the means to counteract Iranian influence and capabilities such as they have shown through forces like the Quds. What the Arabs seem to want from the arrangement is a direct action force combining air strike capabilities and ground forces to be capable of quelling any national destabilization, (such as events like the Arab Spring) insurgency (such as the beginning of the Syrian War and current Yemen conflict) as well as counter-terrorism capabilities.

This isn’t, however, the first time such a force has been seriously suggested. Such a force was a major agenda with the Ba’athists since the 1960’s and has been a long established goal of various Arab League states for many years. This has always been hampered by the region’s numerous flaws, suspicions and inability to cooperate strategically across borders. Add to this and the devastating effect of the Arab-Israeli conflicts on Arab cohesion.

To the credit of the Arabs, conflicts throughout the Middle East over the last fifty years have seen a massive, though somewhat quiet, increase in military infrastructure to support such a new force. An example of this is the Al Asad Air Base in Iraq and others like it, a result of the Israeli conflict and the Middle Easts inability to muster forces fast enough to fight back against Israeli assaults. Another fact worth considering is that nations throughout the Middle East have been outspending much of the world for the last decade. Saudi Arabia, for example, has been spending as much as 10% of their annual GDP on defense spending, more than doubling even the United States military’s relative spending.

That said, if this goal does stick, one can’t know what it will lead to. The force’s staying power will mean an escalation of conflict between the Arab League and Tehran, an event which paints a new and altogether more threatening light on the recent nuclear agreements going on with Iran currently. The Arab region’s history of being politically intertwined in all regards with Islam, particularly that of extremist Wahabi/Salifist branches, is obviously concerning, given their own recent attempts at nationalization. Arab military victories would surely see a rise in Arab nationalism, which may see more growth in parties like the remaining Ba’athists, which given their history, could be even more concerning.  These three elements together, an example being a militarized Arab national state with religious backing such as Iraq circa the 1980’s is frightening.What this will mean for places like Israel we can’t know, but I’m personally not looking at that area very positively. In general, the only thing the entire Arab League has agreed on centered on the illegality of the Israeli state. Shifting focus, the presence of such a force will also only increase tensions with Iran. Finally, a militarized Arab League does hold the long term threat of one day pushing the West, such as the United States, Europe, and the UN out of many Arab countries altogether.


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