Is Saudi Arabia building an ‘Islamic NATO?’

What you’re likely looking at is indeed an islamic NATO. This is what the American retreat created and allowed to fill in the vacuum. The Saudis no longer trust America and have taken action into their own hands. This is their hedge against Iran’s spreading hegemony as well as Russia who has entered the arena.

Saudi soldiers march during Abdullah’s Sword military drill in Hafar al-Batin, near the border with Kuwait, April 29, 2014. (photo by REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser)


In Riyadh, shortly after midnight on Dec. 14, Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia Prince Mohammed bin Salman surprised the world when he held a press conference — his first — in which he announced the formation of a new Islamic military coalition against terrorism. Predicated on the premise that Muslims have suffered more from terrorism than any other group, Mohammed argued that Islamic countries needed to transform the unilateral counterterrorism campaigns currently being carried out by more than 50 countries around the world into a collective effort to vanquish this “disease.”

From their vantage point, this coalition might in fact be a reaction to what they perceive as the international community’s (under US leadership) largely ineffective campaign against IS, which in their eyes, lacks a clear strategy and resolve and neglects the two main factors that have allowed IS to spread: Bashar al-Assad’s brutalization of Syria’s Sunni majority and Iran’s support of Shiite militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

It is not clear at this point whether the ultimate objective of this Saudi initiative is to create the Islamic equivalent of NATO, a formal military alliance with binding commitments from its member states. Nevertheless, the announcement is consistent with two prior decisions that suggested that while it is not rejecting the security framework agreed upon by the victorious powers following World War II and which became institutionalized in the United Nations Security Council, Saudi Arabia may be looking to lead alternative security frameworks.

The first decision was Saudi Arabia’s rejection of the United Nations Security Council seat it had won in the fall of 2013. The second was its announcement in March of this year that it would be leading an Arab military coalition in Yemen to restore the internationally recognized president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who had been ousted from the capital Sanaa by Iranian-supported Houthi rebels in late 2014. Taken in total, these three decisions — the rejection of the Security Council seat, launching a military campaign in Yemen and leading an Islamic coalition against terrorism — indicate that there has been a paradigm shift in Saudi Arabia: It is one that has redefined how the kingdom views its role in the Middle East and broader Islamic world as well as how it views the role of the traditional guarantor of stability in the region, the United States.

For much of its modern history, Saudi Arabia has been known as a status quo state — one that used its oil wealth and eminent status in the Islamic world to mediate between warring countries and sometimes between warring factions within a state. Its objective has often been to maintain the political order through quiet behind-the-scenes diplomacy. However, the unprecedented turmoil that has gripped the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, and which led to the ascendance of Saudi Arabia’s biggest regional foe, Iran, and the emergence of its sworn enemy, IS, has compelled Saudi policymakers to adopt a more assertive foreign policy. This new Saudi thinking is also a response to the perception that the United States has elected to disengage from the Middle East and that even when it did decide to act, it seemed to lack a clear strategy; its critics argue that one example of this was its airstrikes against IS strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

While the Saudis still favor American weapons and are continuing to share intelligence and consult regularly with the United States, they seem to have concluded that the United States has differing threat perceptions than theirs. Saudi Arabia’s two most pressing foreign policy priorities, the conflicts in Yemen and Syria, do not seem to be US priorities. Just as importantly, as the Saudis continued to repeatedly express their concern about what they deemed to be Iran’s destructive role in the region, the United States signed a historic nuclear agreement with Iran that could pave the way for reintegrating it into the international community.

While the United States is providing vital intelligence and logistical support to the Saudi-led Arab coalition in Yemen, the Saudis launched this unprecedented campaign after it became clear that the international community had no interest in taking forceful measures to reverse the Houthis’ military gains. The Saudis have succeeded in convincing 10 other Arab counties to support the ongoing campaign. The Yemen campaign is the ultimate expression of Saudi Arabia’s new, more assertive and independent foreign policy posture.

Full article: Is Saudi Arabia building an ‘Islamic NATO?’ (Al Monitor)

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