The Trump administration pressed ahead Friday with plans to create “Arab NATO,” tentatively known as the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA) that would unite American partners in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia and Israel in an anti-Iran alliance.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met in New York with foreign ministers from Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to advance the project.
“All participants agreed on the need to confront threats from Iran directed at the region and the United States,” the release, attributable to State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, said.
Secretary Pompeo “and the foreign ministers had productive discussions on establishing a Middle East Strategic Alliance, anchored by a united GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] to advance prosperity, security and stability in the region,” the statement added.
United against Iran
Latest US move came days after Saudi foreign minister along with envoys from United Arab Emirates and Bahrain held a meeting with Director of Israel’s Mossad spy agency here and said they have joined ranks to counter the growing influence of Iran in the region.
Speaking alongside US National Security Adviser John Bolton and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir called for the overthrow of the Iranian government, saying the Islamic Republic was unlikely to change on its own volition.
“Unless the pressure internally is extremely intense, I don’t believe they will open up,” al-Jubeir said at the United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) conference in New York City, which was attended by US, UAE, Bahrain and Israel besides Foreign Minister of Riyadh backed Yemeni government.
Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton, Foreign Secretary Mike Pompeu and Director of Israel’s spy agency Mossad Yossi Cohen attended the meeting.
These five U.S.-backed countries were among the few to welcome Trump’s decision to unilaterally abandon a 2015 multinational deal.
Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, who hosted the United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) summit released the names of participants.
Khaled Alyemany, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Yemen; Shaikh Abdullah bin Rashed bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain to the U.S.; Yousef Al Otaiba, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the U.S.; Yossi Cohen, Director of the Mossad, State of Israel; Brian Hook, Special Representative for Iran and Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State; Radek Sikorski, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland; Dr. Suzanne Maloney, Senior Fellow, Center for Middle East Policy, The Brookings Institution; Bernard-Henri Levy, French Philosopher and Author; Norman T. Roule, Former National Intelligence Manager for Iran; Dr. Michael Singh, Lane-Swig Senior Fellow and Managing Director, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Lucinda Creighton, Former Minister of European Affairs of Ireland; and Ambassador Dennis B. Ross, Former Special Assistant to President Barack Obama.
At a time when traditional U.S. allies France, Germany and the U.K.-all of which also signed the nuclear deal-were working alongside China and Russia to counter U.S. sanctions against Iran, this Middle Eastern quintet has formed the core of foreign support for Trump’s hardline stance against the Islamic Republic.
UAE ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba sitting on a panel beside State Department director of policy planning Brian Hook and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir said that the Iranian “threat was existential”.
“The Gulf countries, Israel and the countries in the immediate vicinity are the ones at immediate risk,” Otaiba said making fighting growing Iranian influence a common cause with Israel.
While the four Arab states do not recognise Israel, their mutual enmity for the Islamic Republic has forged an informal coalition. Otaiba himself reportedly met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a ‘chance encounter’ in Washington in May, during which both men discussed their country’s positions on Iran, according to the Associated Press.
Bahrain, a majority-Shia Muslim country ruled by a Saudi backed monarchy, went so far as to publicly back Israel’s right to defend itself via a social media statement by its top diplomat in March. Having accused Iran of backing the mass uprising in his country, Bahraini envoy to the U.S. Sheikh Abdullah bin Rashed bin Abdullah Al Khalifa reaffirmed this statement on Tuesday.
“Some of you might recall our foreign minister tweeted a few months ago and said that every country has the right to defend itself, including Israel,” Sheikh Abdullah said.
Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ousted a CIA-reinstalled absolute monarchy, Iran’s growing influence in the region has sparked fear in Saudi Arabia and Israel. The staunch U.S. allies have been at odds since Israel’s 1948 creation, which prompted the mass displacement of Palestinians and a series of Arab-Israeli wars, but reports have suggested that two have become increasingly close in the face of a common foe, especially as Riyadh’s regional clout has fallen in Iran’s favor in countries such as Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and beyond.
Saudi Foreign Minister left the event without taking questions and Israeli Mossad Director Yossi Cohen’s comments at the following panel were off the record. As a Saudi-led coalition–which includes Bahrain and the UAE–bombs Yemen, Israeli warplanes blast alleged Iranian and pro-Iran positions fighting on behalf of resurgent Syrian Arab Army.
Both Saudi Arabia and Israel have backed rebels attempting to topple government of Syria, the only Arab country still officially in the state of war with the Jewish state. Israeli officials have called for Saudi Arabia and its regional allies to openly work together with their country against Iran, which is heavily involved in Syria’s defence. Last month, a report surfaced suggesting Saudi Arabia acquired the Iron Dome missile defense system, which Israel uses to block rocket attacks from Palestinian and Lebanese groups supported by Iran.
While the true extent of their alignment remains the source of reports and speculation, Israel and Saudi Arabia’s anti-Iran postures have been emboldened by the Trump administration.
Militarized approach to counter Iran
The Trump administration’s quiet push for an ‘Arab Nato’ or MESA, is emblematic of an increasingly destabilizing U.S. policy toward the Middle East. This is not the first this year that the United States has been seen taking up a confrontational and militarized approach to counter Iran.
After the first round of heavy-handed sanctions announced against the Islamic Republic earlier in 2018, an even more damaging second round of U.S. sanctions is expected to take effect in November.
The Trump regimes consistent depiction of Iran as the sole catalyst for the instability permeating the Middle East region has meant that Iranian threat has been hyperbolically inflated to unrealistic levels and there is growing concern amongst defense analysts that a new military alliance in the region could potentially result in greater chaos for the Middle East.
The region tarnished from its recent bloodied conflicts with the sudden rise of extremist terror like in the shape of ISIS, is at a grave risk of being subjected to the same chaos that it has barely avoided. It was only in September 2017 that Iraq and adjoining areas of Syria were declared free of ISIS presence after a four year joint military effort chiefly led by Iran.
But Trump continues to pin hopes on this new anti-Iran Arab alliance to fetch bigger dividends for the U.S. military industry complex as the lucrative military deals with oil-rich Arab allies are in pipeline to beef up efforts against the percieved threat from Iran.
Iran: Diplomatic and military triumph
Iran has been keen to point out the perceived growing ties between the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia and dismissed their accusations, accusing them of conspiring to destabilize the country and the region. The Iranian position has been reinforced by its success in tackling the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said, the Trump administration’s “obsession” with Iran is backfiring throughout the region.
“I think US policy direction in the entire region, which is so focused on their obsession with Iran, has backfired in Lebanon, backfired in Syria, backfired in Iraq,” Zarif said in an interview. “It will backfire elsewhere.”
Qatar has voiced reservations with the anti-Iran alliance saying the crisis among Gulf countries must be solved first.
Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told a news conference soon after the conference in New York that the alliance should be built on existing institutions, and he asked how that could be done when the most powerful Gulf countries have been engaged in a more-than-yearlong dispute.
“The real challenge facing the U.S.-led alliance is to solve the Gulf crisis,” he said.
France, the EU, Germany and the U.K. have been deeply critical of the U.S. decision to leave the Iran deal, which came after the International Atomic Energy Agency affirmed Tehran’s adherence on multiple occasions and followed U.S. exits from other international agreements.
A day before Trump’s U.N. address and the United Against Nuclear Iran conference, the foreign ministers of these transatlantic powers met with their Russian, Chinese and Iranian counterparts to discuss saving a nuclear deal that no longer protects the beleaguered Iranian economy from heavy U.S. sanctions.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced Monday alongside Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that China, the EU, France, Germany, Russia and the U.K. would establish an alternative payment to dodge U.S. sanctions against companies doing business with Iran.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas previously made a similar suggestion last month, arguing that Europe had to step up and “counterbalance” the U.S. when it “crosses red lines.” Experts have suggested that such a move could have a major impact on U.S. global influence, as China and Russia were vying with the West for international authority and European powers were growing frustrated with the direction of Trump’s foreign policy.
“The United States makes its decisions based on its national security interests, other parties to the plan of action need to make their decisions based on the capacities of their nations,” Hook told the summit Tuesday when asked about the positions of China, the EU, France, Germany, Russia and the U.K.
With the U.S increasingly facing diplomatic isolation and its Arab allies divided over an anti-Iran military coalition it remains to be seen how the ‘Arab NATO’ could immediately affect Iran’s growing influence in the region.
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