Yemen, with its perpetual state of unrest, has now sparked the Arab states to form a united front, news sources have most recently reported. However, unlike many instances in the past, where the Middle East was consumed by infighting among the Arabic speaking nations, for the first time, these countries are urgently addressing regional needs, by fighting the radicalism going on in their own backyard. Over the weekend, after Saudi Arabian jets launched airstrikes in Yemen targeting the Iranian backed Shiite Houthi rebels, the Arab League’s 22 member states convened a meeting in Cairo endorsing the Saudi initiative, and agreed to create a force for the purpose of fighting the insurgents.
It is clear that this action going on reflects an important change in the balance of power in the Middle East. Indeed, it is not the first time that there has been a concerted effort to unite forces in the Arab world. In 1976, the Arab League launched an initiative to quell the civil war in Lebanon, which however, left it with a permanent Syrian presence, and in 1982, several of the Gulf States formed the Peninsula Force Shield designed to counter the threats posed by fundamentalist Iran. In the past, their initiatives enjoyed the backing of the US, which has served as their security guarantor.
However, the situation today has changed. Four years ago, the Arab world experienced another sea of change, which President Obama hailed as the Arab Spring. As he, as well as many others, held out hope that this would lead to democracy in the Middle East, with the exception of Tunisia, this proved to be a mere fantasy, and instead led to the President throwing his support behind, then Egyptian President, Muhammed Morsi, who in fact led the country down one of its more disastrous paths. Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood backed government oppressed women and minorities, was overthrown by a popular uprising, backed by the Egyptian army, who placed Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in as leader, and later secured his post through election. Sisi has so far shown to be a far more effective, and responsible leader. However, the American President has been slow to embrace him as a strategic ally, in contrast to his predecessor, while at the same time trying to forge warmer ties with Iran, the same country backing the Houthi terrorists in Yemen against whom the Arab League has united, along with the Iranian backed Shiite forces in Lebanon and Syria.
With a U.S. President, who appears more removed from the interests of the Arab League, coupled by the ongoing negotiations with Iran, which they see will only move the latter in a nuclear direction, the Arab leaders now feel they need to take their own action. Sisi, with the backing of King Abdullah of Jordan, and King Salman of Saudi Arabia, has now taken the leading role in uniting the 22 members of the Arab league for the first time in an effort to stave off this radicalism, which is not only limited to the Houthis of Yemen, but also ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Although Obama has recently voiced his support in favor of the Arab League’s Yemen initiative, the League does not see him as showing the same support as he has to the Iranian backed Shiite militias in Iraq.
Such change in the balance of power, especially in the case of Yemen, has not only sparked the Arab states to form a united front, it has even led to them inviting Israel to partake in this realignment against radicalism. Fighting the Houthi rebels in Yemen is only a start, as the Sunni countries, most notably Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates see a strategic alliance with Israel as beneficial in the long term. It is reported that Saudi Arabia and Israel, in fact, have been cooperating strategically against the common threat of Iran. Saudi Arabia has also stated that it would allow Israeli jets to fly over its airspace in the event of a nuclear breakout in Iran. Though Israel is known to possess nuclear weapons, the Arab countries for the most part acknowledge that these are only for the purpose of providing a deterrent rather than aggression. Countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have also concurred with Israel on its ongoing warnings and opposition to Washington’s negotiations with Iran. Without proper accountability in these negotiations, and without stronger support for the initiative in Yemen against the Houthis, the Saudis and their allies could very well look to countries like Pakistan and South Korea to help them form a nuclear counterweight against Iran.
The majority of the countries in the Arab League are not democracies, nor are they even expected to have responsible elections in the near future, however, their concerns are well founded. Washington’s interests would best be served if it listened to the warnings of its longtime allies, Israel and Arab states alike. Otherwise the alliance against Yemen’s Houthi terrorists and their sponsor in Tehran, may very well lead to other things more fatal and spark the Arab states to form a united nuclear front, leaving Washington to sit silently upon a highly explosive tinderbox.
Opinion by Bill Ades