Joint Arab force is inevitable
So far his proposal has been supported by Jordan, which according to El-Sissi has offered to send troops as backup for the Egyptian military following the Libya massacre. His trip to Saudi Arabia on Sunday and his summit meeting with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman presented an opportunity to discuss bilateral issues and the threat of extremism in the region
Arab League Secretary General, Nabil Al-Arabi, is also promoting the idea as he visits GCC countries, but there is little hope that his mission will be successful. The organization has been unable to present workable solutions for a number of regional challenges including the four-year-old Syrian crisis. Lack of means to deal with problems in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen has crippled the Arab League and may force Cairo to seek to build alliances outside the organization.
Details of El-Sissi’s proposal are unclear. He has outlined the challenges that face Egypt and the Gulf states and reiterated his readiness to defend Gulf security. The joint Arab force will most likely be made up of Egyptian troops, with token support from Jordan and other countries. Such an entity will act as a rapid deployment force to thwart possible threats, it is believed.
The immediate challenge facing the region today, in the view of Egypt and Jordan, is extremism. Both countries find themselves at the forefront in the war against IS militancy. Jordan has become a major partner in the international coalition fighting IS in both Syria and Iraq following the brutal killing of its pilot in January. King Abdallah has insisted that the war against extremists is the responsibility of Arabs and Muslims who should form a coalition to defend Islam against outlaws who claim to speak on its behalf. For Jordan taking the battle to IS positions in Syria and Iraq is a pre-emptive move aimed at making sure that the militants don’t come close to the kingdom’s borders.
For Egypt the challenge is more complex. Extremists are already waging battle against the army in northern Sinai. They have pledged allegiance to IS and after many months they still pose a considerable threat to the Egyptian state. The chaos in Libya has presented Cairo with a clear and direct challenge. IS militants are now in control of a number of Libyan towns and cities. Egypt and Jordan have pushed to lift the international arms embargo on Libya to allow the national army to be better prepared to face the militants. So far such efforts have met resistance from the international community at the UN.
Without beefed up military support the national Libyan army will not be able to make headway in defeating the militants. The chaos in Libya has become a security nightmare for Egypt. Without Gulf backing it will be difficult for Cairo to provide viable assistance to the legitimate government in Libya.
The idea of an Arab joint force is not new. It has been tried before with unfortunate consequences. The Arab Deterrent Force, which was created by the Arab League in 1976 to intervene in the Lebanese civil war, devolved into a Syrian occupying power of Lebanon that became part of the problem. The notoriety of that experience has given the notion of a joint Arab force a bad name. In addition to that the Arab League’s Common Defense Charter has never been activated.
Still the threats that the region is facing have put unprecedented pressure on Arab regimes. The Arab League has failed in its mission and is unlikely to transform itself into a potent player in the near future. One of the challenges that the Syrian crisis has presented is the creation of opposing alliances in the region involving Iran, Turkey and others. Such alliances have put some Arab countries at opposing ends.
The war against extremism is turning into an existential fight for countries like Egypt. El-Sissi’s proposal may not see the light of day at present but in view of rising dangers the need for joint Arab force to defend the region may become an unavoidable necessity.
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