Arabs in a ‘decisive’ mood

Arabs in a ‘decisive’ mood

Arab League summits used to be dismissed as little more than talking shops, mere forums for Arab leaders to stay in touch. Final communiqués were usually devoid of actionable steps to resolve issues. However, those criticisms are old news as the mood and outcome of the 26th summit held in Sharm El-Sheikh strongly indicates.
Not everyone will agree with me. Certainly, various commentators on Al Jazeera International and other networks appear to be out of touch with new realities.
I’ve heard so-called political experts, including fellows of the Brookings Institution, make cynical comments about the spirit of unity permeating the Arab World and, in particular, they suggest that the defensive Joint Arab Force is nothing more than a proposal likely to gather dust along with the Arab League Defense Treaty on Defense and Economic Cooperation.
Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, Marwan Bishara, asked the anchor whether he was permitted to roll his eyes — an expression of contempt — and promptly did so. Syndicated columnist and author Rami Khouri was equally dismissive on the grounds that such force is unlikely to be workable.
For decades, commentators have blamed Arab leaderships for failing to tackle regional crises, rather relying on foreign powers to do the job for them, interventions that can only be described as disastrous for those afflicted countries. And now that governments are finally getting their act together, they’re being bashed for their efforts.
It’s my view that, on this, the naysayers are flat wrong. Why? Circumstances have changed dramatically over the past 18 months or so. Numerous Arab states are under threat from terrorist groups of various stripes, armed sectarian militias, secessionists, pervasive extremist ideologies — and most of all, Iran’s growing domination of Arab nations via its proxies, as well as the stated intention of one of the Ayatollah Khamenei’s closest advisers to build a new Persian Empire.
Anyone with eyes to see knows that the neighborhood is falling apart like a house of cards and needs rescuing. Furthermore, as we gleaned from addresses given by several Arab heads of state to the summit’s delegates, there is a growing sense of urgency to deal with these crises head on. Several feel let down by their traditional western allies, not to mention the United Nations that has failed to deliver on a Palestinian state and has not succeeded in ending the bloodshed in Syria.
Operation “Decisive Storm” was not only needed to reinstate Yemen’s legitimate president and government, it was implemented to safeguard the Bab El Mandeb Strait, from a Houthi blockade and to secure the Kingdom’s southern border, which is close to the main Houthi stronghold. The latter was no idle threat.
According to the spokesman for the Arab coalition, Houthi rebels are mobilizing toward that border and are threatening to launch a wave of cross-border suicide attacks.
“Decisive Storm” proves that Arab leaders are able and willing to put their hands together when push comes to shove — and for the first time, they’ve joined forces off their own bat without western coordination. This, more than anything, sends Iran the message, watch out; there’s a new power on the block! It signals a rearrangement of the geopolitical deck chairs, which can only be described as historic.
True there’s many a slip between cup and lip, but I’m highly optimistic that the Joint Arab Force, initially slated to comprise 40,000 elite troops, will come into being, as was confirmed by a statement at the end of the summit. Arab League member countries are free to opt-in or opt-out; it will be interesting to see how many choose to take part.
The nitty-gritty will be ironed out by a panel of military chiefs from participating states within a month. It will manifest because the time is right due to a confluence of shared concerns and interests. “Operation Decisive Storm” has set the stage with nine countries rallying in response to the Saudi call, much to Iran’s surprise.
The Arab League has embraced a new era of cooperation and goodwill that goes beyond mutual defense. The decision was taken to turn the dream of an Arab free trade area into reality with a view to establishing a customs union down the road. Leaders, who truly know what’s at stake for their homelands and the resurgent Arab nation, are ready to get proactive. And it’s my own sincere hope that in time the wet blankets will be forced to eat their words.
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