An ‘Arab NATO’ would only add to the region’s woes | Haitham El Zobaidi


Talk of an Arab NATO ignores many facts on the ground. Such a notion distorts or oversimplifies the realities of the region.

The Middle East is now going through one of its worst phases to such an extent that it is difficult to count the number of problems it is facing. Combining the terms “visiting US president” and “Arab NATO” will not generate magic solutions to current problems.

We cannot compare the recently proposed concept with the original NATO idea. This alliance was born in particular circumstances after the Second World War and the outbreak of the Cold War. Facing the Nazis, Western armies coalesced into a fighting bloc that fought on several fronts, including North Africa and Southern and Western Europe. There is nothing more than camaraderie in arms to test true intentions and bring positions closer together. While the West was aware of the danger of a second ideological war in the wake of its war against fascism, it began its confrontation with communism exactly where its war with Nazism had ended. He chose military coordination under the leadership of the United States as part of an alliance that later evolved into NATO.

The situation in the Middle East is different from the situation in Europe after the Second World War. Europe was devastated after fierce battles and aerial bombing campaigns that destroyed many of its cities. Moreover, Europe was on the brink of economic collapse as the war had drained its resources. The Marshall Plan, in which the United States poured a lot of money for the reconstruction of Europe, was part of the desire to heal the wounds of war.

In the Middle East today, political chaos is closely linked to destruction. The region is a place where conflicting ideological projects seem endless and where there is no clear definition of the new enemy.

The “Arab NATO” is supposed to be based on the alliance of the same list of countries invited to the meeting in Jeddah, in the presence of visiting US President Joe Biden. It is also assumed that Israel, which will not participate, will be represented at the meeting, either by the United States or by the signatories of the Abrahamic accords with their common interests and similar attitudes. But are these countries really ready to be part of a future regional NATO?

The danger is clearly Iran, which represents the region’s greatest destabilizing factor. This is not the result of recent developments. It dates back to the arrival of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran in 1979 and his announcement of his plan to export the Iranian revolution to the countries of the region after the fall of the Shah. So far, there is no reason to believe that Khomeini’s heirs have moved away from the goal of the leader of the Iranian revolution.

But the relationship that the participants of the Jeddah summit have with Iran varies from country to country: from Egypt’s strategy of weak proximity to Iran, to Qatar’s coordination with Tehran at different levels, to the Kuwait’s avoidance of the Iranian danger and Iraq’s inability to do anything about it. The regional relationship with Iran is not based on hostility between Riyadh and Tehran. Everyone senses the Iranian threat but approaches it differently. Arabs don’t share the same view as they make their way to the top of Jeddah. This kind of situation cannot serve as a basis for alliances.

Then there are different political and economic situations between the states of the region. Given the message that was likely carried by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman during his recent visits to Egypt and Jordan, there are no Saudi/Gulf Marshall plans that could come out of countries like Jordan and Egypt of their many economic problems.

The fear of social implosions due to economic crises and political difficulties in these countries is not the right starting point for alliances aimed at countering external threats such as that posed by Iran.

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