Why a new Middle East military alliance is not new
By : Dr. Theodore Karasik
New reports over the last few weeks reveal plans for a Middle East military alliance consisting of key GCC states, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco. This news is not new; the concept has been in development for the past three years.
Defense is paramount
In 2011, when Saudi King Abdullah announced the intention to create the Gulf Union, one facet of the initiative stood out immediately – that of defense. Defense of the GCC is a paramount concern in the current regional environment, especially considering Iran’s assertive behavior in the Arab states of Iraq and Yemen. More importantly, the growing threat of ISIS and related extremist activities is also a call to arms.
In 2011, the Peninsula Shield forces were seen as a stepping stone toward creating a region-wide Middle East military alliance. The Peninsula Shield is becoming a robust force and protector of the GCC. In the past, the Peninsula Shield was used in Kuwait and in Bahrain as a protective force against outside hostility. Currently, Peninsula Shield numbers are growing, new equipment is being added, and with the GCC under threat from events in the Levant and North Africa, particularly in Libya, and from Iran’s growing arsenal of conventional weapons and asymmetric warfare capabilities, now is the time for a Middle East military alliance. Joint exercises to protect air, land, and sea from foreign threats are increasing, including multiple bi-lateral and multi-lateral exercises that include Arab states outside of the GCC.
Seeds of alliance
King Abdullah’s call for a GCC Union laid the seeds for today’s plans for a Middle East military alliance. The call to unite by the Saudi monarch is significant now to other Arab countries. Jordan is a very important country to the GCC because of its proximity to the operations against ISIS and other Al-Qaeda groups in the Levant. Propping up the monarchy in Jordan is a priority because of the possibility of what could come next if it were to fall. Egypt, of course, is a main partner of the GCC states and their interactions in defense and security matters, to include counter-terrorism operations, is growing in leaps and bounds.
Morocco and Algeria are also part of the equation as GCC security interests span across North Africa as Libya tears itself apart. Although Libya’s Prime Minister al-Thinni and Gen. Haftar are making progress in their attempts to recapture Tripoli from the gang-like Libya Dawn, there is still much work to do. Last, but not least, is the situation in Yemen where the Houthis successfully changed the composition of the Hadi government by bringing in their kinsmen and southern secessionists in the government. Overall, what we are witnessing is the birth of a new regional security pact only a few years after King Abdullah’s call for Union. It is clear that events in the region now warrant a regional approach to prepare for military action.
The necessity to mitigate the extremist threat is growing. From the Arab point of view in these key states, the extremists are taking over key cities in order to seize political and ultimately economic control of these states. The phenomena of Salifist-Jihadist emirates are the wave of the future in the turbulent areas of the MENA region and require a new Middle East military alliance to crush their appearance. The announcement of the Islamic State by “Caliph Ibrahim” on the first day of the Holy Month of Ramadan this year is not related to the events in Libya directly but is instead part of the evolution of the Jihadist-Salafist universe that is recognizing that now is the time to announce proto-states. These proto-states build alternative government structures and are attractive recruitment tools across the region and beyond because they offer “a new vision.” There appears to be a growing tendency to announce such emirates and then quick denials. Nevertheless, the threat is real and necessary to respond to bluntly and forcefully. Extremists in ungovernable territory need to be ejected by force immediately.
From the Arab point of view in these key states, the extremists are taking over key cities in order to seize political and ultimately economic control of these states.
Dr. Theodore Karasik
In September 2014, a GCC meeting in Jeddah that included Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon resulted in a communiqué roles of the GCC+4 along with America regarding the campaign against ISIS. The communiqué stated that all are “to stand united against the threat posed by all terrorism, including the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant [ISIS], to the region and the world.” Importantly, an Arab official stated that this part of the communiqué is in reference not only to ISIS but to other extremists who are fighting in other parts of the MENA region. Indeed, the GCC+4 is turning into a pan-regional Arab security organization intent on stamping out extremism across the region – to include Libya, Sinai, Yemen and other hotspots. Militarily, the message is clear: We are coming to get you on multiple levels.
Several Sunni Arab states already used their air assets and special operation forces to assist those forces fighting extremists in MENA. The formal founding of a new Middle East military alliance is a step in the right direction through wider cooperation. This cooperation is likely to take the form of increased intelligence and information sharing, the use of air power, and special operation forces operating under joint commands. In effect, these “purple forces” will be wearing a new regional hat and launching pin-point attacks.
Questions remaining to be answered include the size of any force. Some sources estimate up to 400,000 soldiers excluding special operators. Funding and a headquarters, plus political support from within the Arab world are guaranteed by the ongoing regional threat environment. But the organizational and funding issues are secondary to the growing requirements to mitigate the multitude of extremists that are already entrenched across the MENA region. Already, Saudi Arabia’s minister of the national guard, Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, intends to have a force of 100,000 members under the Joint Military Command of the GCC that could easily be into action within the context of a new Middle East military alliance. Other countries such as Morocco and Jordan intend to provide direct military, operational, and intelligence support to the GCC states in North Africa and the Levant respectively with up to 300,000 troops.
Clearly, a Middle East military alliance is an absolute security requirement. Luckily, King Abdullah planted the notion early and the technical plans for such a security arrangement are ready to sprout.
Dr. Theodore Karasik
Clearly, a Middle East military alliance is an absolute security requirement. Luckily, King Abdullah planted the notion early and the technical plans for such a security arrangement are ready to sprout. A Middle East military alliance will help to coordinate what is looking like a three-front war from observers on the Arabian Peninsula: to the north, the violence in the Levant, to the west, the terrorist networks across North Africa and the Sinai, and to the south, the ever-continuing downward spiral and mutations of the Yemeni religio-political landscape. The timing by the Arab states on a military alliance on these urgent and perilous matters are spot on.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Senior Advisor to Risk Insurance Management in Dubai, UAE. He received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans. He tweets: @tkarasik