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Arabs do not need their own NATO

US plans to form a strategic alliance in the Middle East face hurdles in the region

25.02.2019 16:44 Andrey Ontikov, international observer

Arabs do not need their own NATO
Context:

The United States does not abandon the idea of creating the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA) nicknamed "Arab NATO". As the Wall Street Journal reported the other day, a meeting on this issue involving representatives of some of the region's countries was to be held in Washington on February 20. And in the first half of January, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain and Oman — countries that, as envisioned by the Americans, should form a military-political alliance — where, among other things, he discussed prospects for developing the new organization.

It is worth reminding that the first references to the "Arab NATO" appeared in 2017 during US President Donald Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia. Formally, the initiative was put forward by Riyadh, which then announced the feasibility of signing a security agreement by Washington's allies in the region. However, the key role in this process quickly came over to the Americans themselves, and as early as in mid-2018 media reports appeared pointing to Trump administration's intention to implement this idea. And it has never been concealed that Iran will be assigned to the role of the "Middle East Soviet Union", although this was "seasoned" with statements on the prospects for strengthening stability and security in the Middle East. In other words, the United States intended to create a new bloc particularly against Tehran.

Back in 2017, Russia assessed this in a negative way. Thus, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that "settling any issues of international security via narrow and closed military political blocs" is unacceptable. As the Minister noted, "it is our principled stance that the extremely complicated problems of the Middle East and North Africa can only be solved on a collective and inclusive basis with the involvement of all the so-called 'actors', without trying to isolate anyone".

Meanwhile, it's been three years since the idea of "Arab NATO" started soaring in the media space, but today there is still no real progress as regards its formation. And none is expected apparently. Such an assessment is given not only by experts, but also by those designated to become members of the alliance. At the recent Munich security conference, Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani has once again predicted its failure, having rightfully stated that one cannot talk about a coalition, whose countries are at war with each other. This certainly refers to the ongoing diplomatic crisis in the Persian Gulf. In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, as well as some other countries broke off relations with Doha and accused it of supporting terrorism. By the way, among other things to settle the situation they urge Qatar to stop contacts with Iran, withdraw its Ambassador and close the embassy. And these contacts have recently been quite close and constructive, which also makes against the idea of an "Arab NATO".

One shouldn't also disregard such countries as Oman and Kuwait, whom the Americans see members of the future alliance as well. At the same time, Muscat's relations with Tehran can be even called warm to some extent. In addition, Oman is a country that prefers to sit on the fence or at most to provide a platform for resolving the already existing problems, as it was, for instance, with consultations on Tehran's nuclear program that ended with signing an agreement which the United States quit a short while ago. The same can be generally said about Kuwait which hosted 2016 talks to settle the crisis in Yemen, where there is a collision of interests between Saudi Arabia supporting the legitimate authorities and Iran supporting the Houthi insurgents.

And of course, the very idea of a new alliance gives Tehran a perfect opportunity, including via the Arabic-language media under its control, to accuse those willing to join it of solidarity with Israel. And all this is happening amid the enormous controversy over the global conference on the Middle East (and in fact also an anti-Iranian one), which the United States held on February 13-14 in Warsaw. Back then a number of Arab Foreign Ministers shared a table with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – a case that lighted up the Middle Eastern media.

And finally, the Arab countries are most certainly aware that US efforts to form a new bloc is nothing other than a desire to make sure that someone else pulls the chestnuts out of the fire. At the same time, we should not forget that there are several other conflicts raging in the Middle East, with the clash of regional powers' interests already taking place. Sometimes, their transformation into a large-scale war does not seem inconceivable. If this happens, Washington, at the end of the day, can simply step aside and watch the situation from across the ocean. The only question is whether this scenario does suit the Arabs themselves.

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