Iranian Diplomacy | Mohammad-Mahdi Mazaheri: Along with humiliations that he occasionally directs towards Arab countries, US President Donald Trump has provided these countries with plans and ideas to instill in them the urge that they have to give their petrodollars to the United States to protect them and, of course, confront US enemies. The formation of “Arab NATO” or “Strategic Alliance for the Middle East” is one of the most recent American plans for Arab countries, which aims to equip six Persian Gulf Cooperation Council members, and Egypt and Jordan, to counter threats in the Persian Gulf.
Of course, the formation of a Middle Eastern NATO is not a new idea. In 1955, the United States designed the “Baghdad Pact” to counter the threat posed by the Soviet Union, a plan that lost its efficiency and effectiveness in 1979 due to regional developments. Also, reactionary Arab countries have made serious efforts to counter the influence and power of the Islamic Republic of Iran since the Islamic Revolution, and the formation of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council in 1981 is one of its most prominent manifestations. The council initiated a “Peninsula Shield Force” in the form of joint ground forces and a joint maritime fleet, but assessing the performance of these military forces and the attitude of the Arab states shows that there is little success in practice.
The Peninsula Shield Force is limited to specific and ineffective examples such as intervention in the Bahrain revolution. The joint Arab navy forces of the Persian Gulf is all but a name and a wish. Regardless of this, these Arab countries are supposed to form the “Arab NATO” along with Egypt and Jordan, and, of course, America’s support, but such a precedent shows that the Persian Gulf Arab countries do not have the unity, coherence, and will required for joint military cooperation.
On the other hand, an Arab NATO faces many challenges; including its non-native roots, neglect of regional realities and, of course, widespread disagreement among Arab countries. The fact that Arab NATO is not the idea and initiative of an Arab state, but designed and supported by the United States who aims to prevent unity and interfere with the regional security system in the Persian Gulf region, is one of the most serious factors that undermines the credibility and the validity of the plan with the public opinion of the region.
Another key challenge is the recent arrogant position of US President Donald Trump against Saudi Arabia. To increase his popularity among his domestic base, Trump speaks of the pressures and humiliations he throws at Arab leaders during meetings and bilateral talks, such as telling Saudi officials “we’re protecting you. You might not be there for two weeks without us. You have to pay for your military”. What he doesn’t know is that such statements make the Arab world more sensitive towards American interventions in the region and prevents them from actualizing plans such as the Arab NATO.
The disregard of this plan for dangers of the long-standing enemy of the Islamic world, i.e. Israel, and its focus on the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has always sought to establish détente and engage with its neighbors peacefully can become a weakening factor for the Arab NATO, considering Iran’s influence among some Arab countries.
Another important challenge is the difference between the views of the Arab countries on the necessity of the formation of this military unit: while Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain are serious supporters of this plan; officials in countries like Oman who have friendly relations with Iran are skeptical. Qatar, which has been sanctioned for several months by neighboring Arab countries and is still the subject of their fury, naturally cannot be a candidate for this coalition. After the war with Iraq, Kuwait has tried to keep itself away from conflict and to have a fairly peaceful relationship with all its neighbors. Egypt and Jordan have always had a problem with accepting Saudi Arabia’s leadership. Therefore, the existence of such problems makes the formation and success of Arab NATO difficult.
However, even if we consider a modicum of possibility in formation of this Arab military institution, it seems that for various reasons, the Arab NATO would not have a long-lasting effect vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic of Iran. The first reason is that an organization or regional entity can be effective only when its members have sufficient solidarity to deal with common threats, while Arab countries suffer from long-standing divisions and secret strategic rivalries, and do not follow a united policy in in theory and practice.
On the other hand, Arab NATO, even in the event of formation and success, can confront a country only when it illegally interferes in the affairs of other countries. However, the Islamic Republic of Iran has never invaded another country during its lifetime. Even its military advisers are only present at the request of regional authorities in these countries. Such legal presence in the countries of the region is permissible under international law, and there is no legitimacy for Arab NATO or even more serious organizations and institutions to oppose it. Therefore, even if the Arab NATO is formed, Iran will not be worried about it.