Arabs inch closer to old dream of joint Arab force
Arab leaders meeting this weekend in this Egyptian Red Sea resort are moving closer than ever to creating a joint Arab military force, a sign of a new determination among Saudi Arabia, Egypt and their allies to intervene aggressively in regional hotspots, whether against Islamic militants or spreading Iranian power.
Sharm El-Sheikh: Arab leaders meeting this weekend in this Egyptian Red Sea resort are moving closer than ever to creating a joint Arab military force, a sign of a new determination among Saudi Arabia, Egypt and their allies to intervene aggressively in regional hotspots, whether against Islamic militants or spreading Iranian power.
Creation of such a force has been a longtime goal that has eluded Arab nations in the 65 years since they signed a rarely used joint defence pact. And there remains reluctance among some countries, particularly allies of Iran like Syria and Iraq a reflection of the divisions in the region.
Foreign ministers gathered in Sharm el-Sheikh ahead of the summit, which begins tomorrow, agreed on a broad plan for the force. It came as Saudi Arabia and its allies opened a campaign of airstrikes in Yemen against Iranian-backed Shiite rebels who have taken over much of the country and forced its US- and Gulf-backed president to flee abroad.
The Yemen campaign marked a major test of the new policy of intervention by the Gulf and Egypt. The brewing Yemen crisis and Gulf fears that the rebels are a proxy for Iranian influence have been one motivator in their move for a joint Arab force. But it also signalled that they are not going to wait for the Arab League, notorious for its delays and divisions, and will press ahead with their military coordination on multiple fronts.
Egyptian officials said the Yemen airstrikes are to be followed by a ground intervention to further weaken the rebels, known as Houthis, and their allies and force them into negotiations. They have also moved ahead with action in Libya after its collapse into chaos since 2011 and the rise of militants there including now an affiliate of the Islamic State group that has overrun much of Iraq and Syria. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have both carried out airstrikes against Libyan militants in the past year.
In their agreement yesterday, the foreign ministers called on the chiefs of staff of the Arab League's 22-member nations to meet within a month to iron out details of the force, like its budget and mechanism, and report back to the organisation.
The Egyptian military and security officials said the proposed force would be made of up to 40,000 elite troops and will be headquartered in either Cairo or Riyadh, the Saudi capital.