Gulf countries inch closer to old dream of joint Arab force
Creation of such a force has been a longtime goal that has eluded Gulf nations in the 65 years since they signed a rarely used joint defense pact.
Arab League Secretary General Dr Nabil Elaraby, left, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri speak during a press conference following an Arab foreign ministers meeting ahead of a weekend summit in Sharm El Sheikh, South Sinai, Egypt, Thursday, March 26, 2015. - AP photo
Egypt — Gulf 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.
Creation of such a force has been a longtime goal that has eluded Gulf nations in the 65 years since they signed a rarely used joint defense 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 on Saturday, agreed on a broad plan for the force. It came as Saudi Arabia and its allies opened a campaign of airstrikes in Yemen against rebels who have taken over much of the country.
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 Daesh 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 Thursday, 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 organization.
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. The force would be backed by jet-fighters, warships and light armor. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The Associated Press exclusively reported last November that the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, were discussing the creation of a joint military alliance with a possible joint force to deal with the threat posed by Daesh in Libya.
Moreover, Egypt and its Gulf Arab allies have over the past year held a series of joint war games, including several in the Red Sea, a tactic that the Egyptian officials said was necessary to create harmony between members of the proposed force.
Already, the officials said, Egyptian troops are embedded with Saudi forces on the kingdom’s border with Iraq, about a third of which is controlled by Daesh. Egyptian military advisers are also deployed near Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen.
As the crisis in Yemen worsened, Egypt has coordinated efforts with Sudan and Horn of Africa nation Eritrea to ensure the safety of shipping through the southern Bab Al Mandab entrance of the Red Sea, which Yemen overlooks.
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