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Trump Eyes ‘Arab NATO’ To Curb Iran
U.S. President Donald Trump and Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, at the White House. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Trump Eyes ‘Arab NATO’ To Curb Iran

With Shiite Tehran on the march, U.S. recruits Sunni Muslim nations for new regional military alliance

The Trump administration is exploring the creation of a new security body comprising Sunni Middle East countries geared towards countering Shiite Iran’s regional adventurism. Tentatively being called the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), its member-states would seek deeper cooperation in the realms of missile defense, military training and counter-terrorism, while strengthening broader political and economic ties.

“MESA will serve as a bulwark against Iranian aggression, terrorism, extremism and will bring stability,” a spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council asserted in reference to the potential association. U.S. officials hope to hash out the details for the formation of the so-called “Arab NATO” at a prospective summit in Washington in October.

A source from Saudi Arabia confirmed to The Media Line that Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council are being courted by the U.S administration in this regard.

“We were offered a mechanism to coordinate efforts between the United States and other Arab countries for security, defense and economic cooperation in the area,” Jumana Ghnemat, a Jordanian government spokeswoman told The Media Line. “We are still studying the matter. We have not made a decision regarding our participation.”

Political analysts in the Middle East believe that the White House’s aim is to forge a more cohesive front against Iran’s military involvement in the region. Such an alliance, they note, could also be used by the Trump administration to mobilize support for its “deal of the century,” a yet-unveiled Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal.

“I believe the American initiative is to limit the Iranian presence that stretches from Iraq to Yemen, from Syria to Lebanon,” Moeen al-Taher, a Jordanian political analyst, asserted to The Media Line. He added that many governments in the region view the move as the beginning of an attempt by Washington to form a more comprehensive Iran strategy in the wake of its pull-out in May from the nuclear deal.

Al-Taher stressed, however, that the initiative has “already” been complicated by the fact that it comes within a broader “American-Russian” framework that includes the normalization of relations between Arab countries and Israel. “With the new Israeli Nation-State Law [that classifies Israel as a Jewish state], the two-state solution has been killed and there is nothing left to negotiate with the Palestinians,” he contended, adding that this perception makes it difficult for Amman to take part in any regional coalition spearheaded by President Donald Trump.

Sulaiman al-Oqaily, a Saudi political analyst, stressed to The Media Line that two main conditions must be met in order for such an endeavor to work. “First, there must be one Arab political and defense strategy and, second, one clear enemy;” this, in order to ensure that all parties are on the same page.

In this respect, he differentiated between the failed Arab military force that previously deployed to Syria—which ultimately was torn apart by competing interests—and the Saudi-led coalition that has for over three years been fighting Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen. The latter example, al-Oqaily suggested, is a “model that validates the idea” of regional countries creating new associations in order to achieve common military goals.

Nevertheless, he qualified, “Arab nations are fearful that the [formation of such an] alliance would mark the beginning of the American war against Iran, and their countries are not ready for it. In previous experiences of war with Iran, Arab nations paid very high prices.”

Over the past year, senior Trump administration officials including adviser Jared Kushner and international negotiator Jason Greenblatt have conducted shuttle diplomacy between Middle East capitals. Several analysts who spoke to The Media Line confirmed the visits laid the foundation for MESA, although the notion reportedly was first raised by Saudi Arabia.

As regards Israel, its relations with regional Muslim nations are by most accounts improving, primarily the result of a shared interest in curbing Iran’s potential nuclearization. However, the conflict with the Palestinians remains a major, if not insurmountable, obstacle to the establishment of full diplomatic ties between Israel and any of its neighbors.

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