Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Beware the pan-Arab army - Zalman Shoval



by Zalman Shoval

The U.S.'s strategic considerations do not have to account for threats from Canada or Mexico, but Israel does not have the luxury of dismissing Middle East dynamics, even when it concerns countries with which it has peace treaties -- and especially with regards to a pan-Arab army that includes nations with which such treaties do not exist.

One of the direct results of the changes in the United States' policies in the Middle East, especially the change in its relationship with Iran, is a growing concern among the U.S.'s Arab allies that they can no longer trust it when it comes to their defense and security.

This, compounded by the chaos sparked in the Middle East by the rise of the Islamic State group and Syria's uncertain future, is the driving force behind the Arab League's rather urgent decision to form a special military force. 

Two weeks ago, the top military commanders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and the Persian Gulf emirates met in Cairo and decided to form a joint military command. The heads of these various Arab states will have to decide on the next step in this venture by the end of June, and it is safe to say that not everyone in Washington is thrilled by the prospect of this strategic Arab initiative, if only due to the fact that it clearly demonstrates the Arab world's reservations over Washington's policies on Iran and the impending nuclear deal.

Washington's response was dual-faceted. Officially, the administration welcomed the decision, while unofficially it has signaled to the various Arab nations that their military alliance is unnecessary, because the U.S. has no intention of turning its back on the Middle East and plans to demonstrate its commitment by supplying the various Arab armies with advanced weapons and military technology. 

The Washington Times, which is known for having top sources in the American defense establishment, reported last week that the administration is considering supplying the Saudis and several Gulf states with advanced weapons, the likes of which have so far only been offered to Israel. 

France also recently signed a large arms deal with Qatar. 

The possible diplomatic and security ramifications of these deals for Israel are clear, and they are both positive and potentially negative.

From a positive outlook, it appears Israel's concerns over the impending nuclear deal between the West and Iran are shared by the U.S.'s Sunni allies, thus creating a united front, albeit not an official one, comprising Jerusalem, Riyadh, Cairo, Amman and others. What U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called "hysteria" is nothing but the region's sober view of the Iranian threat.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the regional consensus in a recent speech marking the 70th anniversary of the allied victory over the Nazis, saying this alliance may also help promote a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In this regard, one should remember that even if the issue remains theoretical at this point, one of Israel's fundamental demands for the inception of an independent Palestinian state is that on top of being a demilitarized entity it will also be barred from pursuing military deals with other nations. 

Israel, however, cannot ignore the fact that the unstable reality in the Middle East means that the plan to form a pan-Arab coalition of this nature has negative potential.

Washington has vowed that bolstering the Arab nations' military abilities will not undermine Israel's strategic qualitative edge -- a pledge the U.S. is bound to keep, as per a 2008 Congress resolution -- but history has taught us that this promise is not without its weak spots.

The U.S.'s strategic considerations do not have to account for threats from Canada or Mexico, but Israel does not have the luxury of dismissing Middle East dynamics, even when it concerns countries with which it has peace treaties -- and especially with regards to a pan-Arab army that includes nations with which such treaties do not exist. 

An Arab coalition that seeks to stop Iran and its proxies in Syria, Lebanon, Sinai and Yemen from expanding Tehran's regional influence is a welcome development, as long as we remember that even what appears to be steadfast and permanent may prove fleeting.


Zalman Shoval

Source: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=12545

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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