Keith Preston: ‘Arab NATO’ Proposal Unlikely to Get Off Ground Reply

My latest interview with Tasnim.

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – An American political analyst said an initiative by the US administration to develop an alliance with the Persian Gulf and Arab allies is expected to fail as there are sharp disagreements between the member states of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council on Iran.

“The prospects for the formation of a Middle Eastern Strategic Alliance are hindered by multiple obstacles. There are sharp disagreements between the member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council on Iran,” Keith Preston, the chief editor and director of attackthesystem.com, told Tasnim.

He added, “It is unlikely that the proposed member nations of a Middle Eastern Strategic Alliance will find that they share enough common interests and common objectives to make such an alliance viable”.

The following is the full text of the interview.

Tasnim: According to media reports, the Trump administration is quietly pushing ahead with a bid to create a new security and political alliance with six Persian Gulf Arab states, Egypt and Jordan, to contain Iran’s growing influence in the region. What do you think about the “Arab NATO” force?

Preston: The Trump administration is interested in developing a Middle Eastern Strategic Alliance that would consist of the two Arab nations that have actually recognized Israel, Egypt and Jordan, both of which are heavily dependent on American aid, in addition to the six members of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. Rhetorically, President Trump is claiming such an alliance would be a Middle Eastern counterpart to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Europe. The objectives of such an alliance would ostensibly be to contain the growing influence of Iran in the Middle East, and presumably Iran’s allies such as Syria, Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthis, and various Palestinian, Iraqi, and Shiite Afghan groups.

However, a wider geopolitical objective appears to be to counter the influence of both Russia and China in the Middle East, particularly given that both of these major powers have moved closer to Iran and its allies in recent years. The United States has an interest in preventing Russia and China from gaining access to valuable natural resources in the Middle East and Central Asia such as minerals, petroleum, and natural gas. For example, it is largely for this reason that the Trump administration has decided to continue the US military presence in Afghanistan despite Trump’s earlier misgivings about the US effort in that country. Clearly, the United States is also working to strengthen relations with its strongest allies in the Middle East, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, and the proposed “Arab NATO” would seem to be an effort in that direction as well.

Tasnim: Saudi officials raised the idea of a security pact ahead of a Trump visit last year to Saudi Arabia where he announced a massive arms deal, but the alliance proposal did not get off the ground at the time. How much do you think an Arab NATO could be a game changer in the reign?

Preston: The armaments deal between the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia was part of the administration’s efforts to strengthen relations with its Middle Eastern allies. The Saudi regime is currently waging war in Yemen, and in Saudi Arabia’s own Eastern Province against the Shiite population there. The United States is working to ensure that Saudi Arabia maintains the upper hand in that conflict because of the importance of the US-Saudi relationship, and the desire to counter the influence of Iran. An “Arab NATO” could be a game changer only if the proposed alliance remained stable and functional over a long enough period of time to effectively counter the influence of Iran and its allies in the region in a way that the Saudis and their allies have not previously been able to do. Such an alliance would be fraught with a great deal of internal tension, and would probably not endure over an extensive period of time. Also, if such an alliance were to develop and actually prove to be formidable, it would be quite likely that Russia and possibly China would seek to increase their own assistance to forces that would oppose such an alliance in the Middle East. Clearly, Russia and China are opposed to ongoing efforts by the United States to curtail their influence in the region. Such a situation could potentially escalate tensions between the major international powers.

Tasnim: Similar initiatives by previous US administrations to develop a more formal alliance with the Persian Gulf and Arab allies have failed in the past. Do think this would fail as well?

Preston: The prospects for the formation of a Middle Eastern Strategic Alliance are hindered by multiple obstacles. There are sharp disagreements between the member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council on Iran. While Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain each wish to take a hard-line stance against Iran, the other three members-Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar-do not share this position, at least publicly. However, none of the other 16 Arab nations besides the (P)GCC members give any substantial indication that they wish to escalate tensions or hostilities with Iran. Additionally, four potential members of the proposed alliance-the three anti-Iranian members of the (P)GCC along with Egypt-have engaged in hostile rhetoric against Qatar, another member of the (P)GCC and proposed member of an “Arab NATO,” by accusing Qatar of promoting terrorism in the region. Egypt is also supportive of the Assad government in Syria and has refused to offer support for the Saudi/UAE-led war effort in Yemen.

Indeed, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt have collectively organized a blockage against Qatar, and it is therefore uncertain how such an alliance would be perceived as being in the interest of each of the proposed members. Hostility also exists between the four anti-Qatari nations and Oman as well. While the UAE and Saudi Arabia have both moved closer to Israel in recent times, it remains true that tensions also exist between Egypt and Jordan as nations that have recognized Israel, and the other 19 Arab nations which have not. The formation of such an alliance would be perceived in the Middle East as a Sunni alliance against Shiite Muslims. Kuwait would experience difficulties by joining such an alliance because about 30% of its population is Shiite. And Oman is not a predominantly Sunni nation, but a mostly Ibadi Muslim country with no direct interest in escalating hostilities with Shiites. It is unlikely that the proposed member nations of a Middle Eastern Strategic Alliance will find that they share enough common interests and common objectives to make such an alliance viable.

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