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)

An Arab NATO in the Making

U.S.-led initiative meant to counter Iranian expansionism

In preparation for the launch of the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA) — known as the “Arab NATO” — Saudi Arabia has revealed an Arab-American meeting, including Qatar, that was held in the kingdom on April 8.

The meeting was held with the high-level participation of Saudi Arabia, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Jordan. According to the Saudi WAS news agency, the meeting was “an important step to launching the alliance, which aims to strengthen the security and stability of the region and the world.”

Sulaiman al-Oqaily, a Saudi political analyst, stressed to The Media Line that there must be one strategy among the Arab nations that form the alliance, as well as a clear target in order for such an endeavor to succeed. First, al-Oqaily pointed out that there must be one united Arab bloc that has agreed that the “Arab NATO” would protect the Arab world from all kind of threats and security challenges. “Its members’ motives and determinants have to be the same,” he insisted.

Al-Oqaily explained that the sectarianism with which Iran targets the Middle East is more dangerous than Israel. “Iran is taking advantage of its culture and religious links to the Arab world to expand there and destroy it,” he continued, adding “Israel can’t violate the Arab society like Iran, but through it’s intelligence services.” Al-Oqaily further speculated that if Iran weren’t involved in Iraq, the latter would be having peace by now.

Since last year, the American administration has been exploring the creation of a new security body comprising Sunni Middle Eastern countries that would be geared toward countering Shiite Iran’s regional adventurism. Reportedly, MESA member-states would seek deeper cooperation in the realms of missile defense, military training and counter-terrorism, while strengthening broader political and economic ties.

“It would 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 last year.

“It’s not a new project. However, its implementation is what matters,” Qassem Qaseer, a Lebanese political analyst stated. He confirmed that the U.S. has been working with Arab states for a while now to form such a body, noting that “the issue remains with the different agendas and political approach of its member of states.” For example, Qaseer  told The Media Line that the Arab countries don’t agree on more than one critical issue, pointing out that the Arab NATO is still an idea with no structure.

“They aim to pressure Iran on the ground by such initiative, although, they need to make it a reality first,” Qaseer added. It is noteworthy that the Idea of an Arab NATO coalition is one of the results of the Arab-Islamic summit hosted by Riyadh in May 2017.

Over the past year, senior American officials, including President Donald Trump’s adviser Jared Kushner and international negotiator Jason Greenblatt, have conducted shuttle diplomacy among 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.

Regarding 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 more of its neighbors.

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