On Arab NATO (2)

Monday, September 3, 2018

Interview with Hossein Sabah Zanganeh

Middle East and Arab World Analyst

Q: About a year has passed since the administration of US President Donald Trump put forth the idea of establishing a military and security coalition known as “Arab NATO.” In your opinion, what is the main reason behind establishing such a coalition by the United States?

A: The United States, especially its incumbent president, Mr. Trump, has been always seeking to sell more arms and get more petrodollars from Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. At the present juncture, it is important for Americans to be able to fill the void of their forces in the region with military forces of Arab countries, which enjoy hefty financial potential and high purchasing power to buy more weapons. Therefore, Americans, especially Trump's administration, maintain that this idea [of forming an Arab NATO] will be part of a lucrative deal, which would allow them to sign more weapon contracts under the pretext of fighting off the existing threats in the region.

Q: In your opinion, how likely is an Arab NATO to be established and if it is formed, how efficient it would be in fulfilling its duties?

A: If we think about the question that “Are there basically any threats in the region and why some Arab countries must seek to form a military coalition?” we would reach a clear conclusion about the motivation of these countries. These countries are worried that conditions in the region may change to their detriment and, at the present time, they need a psychological atmosphere that would meet their psychological security needs. We must take into account the fact that the United States has failed to establish long-term military presence in critical parts of the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean. The United States also tried to secure a foothold in Syria, but did not succeed. Under former president, Barack Obama, Washington was not willing to get directly involved in Syria. However, after election of Trump, the United States sent a lot of troops to Syria, but gradually took them out and, at the present time, American forces are concentrated in a few locations in Syria. Following the defeat of proxy forces affiliated with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in Syria, and also due to failure of Saudi and Emirati armies in the war on Yemen, we are now facing the reality that no military and security coalition would succeed without correct foundations. Even if such a coalition existed, it would have no achievement and might only incur costs and human casualties on its members.

Q: During the past couple of years, there have been severe differences of opinion between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, on the one hand, and Qatar, on the other. Meanwhile, there are reports denoting differences between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi over goals of the war in Yemen. Do you think that the United States would be able to create a unified military coalition among Arab countries in spite of the existence of such differences?

A: Yes, there are many challenges facing such ideas. Saudi Arabia has already formed a so-called coalition, named the “Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition,” to conduct its war on Yemen. However, we have witnessed that at the end of the day, only Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and mercenary forces – including those from the US Black Water and paramilitary forces from Sudan and Somalia – remained in this coalition and they also failed at the end. On the other hand, serious differences between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are a telltale sign of the lack of unity in goals and means. It seems that these countries mostly seek to show off and make pretence of building coalition, and since they have high financial power, they try to get other countries in line. It is noteworthy that Kuwait, Oman and some other Arab countries outside the Persian Gulf region, including Egypt, are opposed to such trends. Therefore, in view of so much internal and external differences and challenges, it would not be possible to realize the idea of an Arab NATO.

Q: It seems that the United States is planning to provide grounds for security and military cooperation between Israel and Washington’s Arab allies in the Persian Gulf. If an Arab NATO is established, to what degree is it possible to cooperate with Israel?

A: Security cooperation by some Arab countries with the Zionist regime has started since about 40-50 years ago, but it was going on in secret. What is happening at the present time is that some sort of convergence has come about between the way that Trump and his close aides, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, think and the ideas of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and [Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates] Mohammed bin Zayed. Meanwhile, [the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu forms the third side of this triangle. This convergence in thoughts and goals cannot be based on strong pillars, because both nations and many effective forces in Arab countries are opposed to this process and this is why this cooperation [between Israel and Arab states] is going on in secret. At the same time, the member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council have not been able to cooperate properly in military terms after forty years of spending money and inviting transregional powers to the region. So, how is it possible to imagine that there could be coherent and clear cooperation between the Zionist regime and military forces of these Arab countries? In addition, other questions can be posed in this regard. Who would lead the operations of this cotillion? Will Israeli forces work under the command of Arab countries or would it be vice versa? At any rate, it is possible for cooperation and coordination with Israel to take place at political and security levels in a covert way and there may even be training cooperation with Israel in military affairs. However, it is not possible to create a new, official and publicly announced organization to which this regime could be a member.

Q: If one of the most important goals behind establishment of Arab NATO is considered to be countering the Islamic Republic of Iran, what options are available to Iran in order to defend its interests?

A: In practice, the Islamic Republic has always invited the regional countries to peace, dialogue and cooperation. In fact, if some of these countries continue to beat the drums of difference and confrontation, they will cause problems for themselves. Despite all analyses, which show that establishment of such a military institution is far from the reality, Iran must make plans on how to deal with this possibility and be ready to handle it. At the same time, it must continue to disclose information about wrong actions taken by these countries. The Islamic Republic of Iran must use various channels to give this warning to its allies in the region and across the world that the goal of establishing this so-called Arab NATO is to stockpile weapons in the region and this issue will not be beneficial to stability and peace in the Middle East.

Q: In view of the measures taken by the United States recently in going back over its promises since Donald Trump has been chosen president, to what degree do you think his commitment to member states of an Arab NATO could be trusted in the long run?

A: In my opinion, a reason for low possibility of successful establishment of such a military institution is doubts about trustworthiness of the United States. The idea of forming an Arab NATO may endure for a period of time because of its propaganda value, but with the lapse of time and following a change in the American administration, the future of this institution will be in serious doubt.


Interviewer: Ramin Nadimi
 Expert in Defense and Military Affairs


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*Photo Credit: TheBaghdadPost


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