The Trump administration is rumored to be in talks with its key allies in the Middle East to create a regional military alliance similar to NATO to ostensibly counter Iran’s influence. RIA Novosti political analyst Andrey Veselov argued that the bloc, if created, will present a “direct threat” to Damascus, rather that Tehran.
“Iran is a distant target of the proposed alliance. The new bloc poses a direct threat to Bashar al-Assad’s government. The Syrian president, an Alawite, has received military and economic support from Iran, a Shiite state. In this respect, the new coalition could be called Sunni, rather than an Arab one,” the analyst asserted.
Washington is said to be courting Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to join their military efforts, but other regional stakeholders could join in the future. The new coalition is expected to adopt a collective response clause, mimicking NATO’s Article 5. The bloc, if established, would also share intelligence with Israel. However, neither Washington, not Tel Aviv would become a formal member.Unconfirmed reports say that the bloc is touted as a counterbalance to Iran.
Although the foreign policy component of Trump’s America First program states that the administration is intent on embracing diplomacy and is “always happy when old enemies become friends,” the US president, a fierce critic of Iran, has repeatedly indicated that his administration could back out of the landmark nuclear deal which saw Iran agree to refrain from pursuing nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief.
In early February, Trump turned to Twitter to lambast Iran for a missile test, saying that the Islamic Republic was “playing with fire” and “put on notice.” Several days later, the US president labelled Iran as “the number one terrorist state,” prompting Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov to say that Moscow did not share this view.
Veselov pointed out that Trump’s initiative is not new. For instance, in early 2015, the Arab League announced its plans to create a joint 40,000-strong response force, with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Sudan, Jordan and other countries contributing troops. It was supposed to be headquartered in Egypt and led by a Saudi general.The initiative, branded as “Arab NATO,” fell through several months later when Saudi Arabia asked to delay the signing of a formal agreement, the analyst explained.
“The delay came after representatives of Egypt and Saudi Arabia bickered at an Arab League meeting. Cairo was concerned that the joint force could be deployed to Libya, which could serve as a precedent for using the new coalition to meddle in the affairs of sovereign states of Maghreb and the Middle East. Representatives of Morocco and Algeria shared Egypt’s view,” Veselov detailed.
In December 2015, Saudi Arabia unveiled Islamic Military Alliance (IMA), an intergovernmental counter-terrorist alliance said to be based on the “Arab NATO” initiative.