New Arab order to defend region

New Arab order to defend region

After more than two years of negotiations Iran has reached a framework agreement with the international community over its controversial nuclear program. It would take another three months to agree on technical details but both parties are already celebrating what has been described as an historic deal.
The long-term agreement would guarantee that Iran’s program will remain peaceful and that Tehran will never be able to build a nuclear weapon. From now on its activities will be subject to international verification and monitoring. In return related UN, US and European sanctions will be removed, allowing Iran’s economy to recover.
But what is probably more important than the agreement is the fact that Iran will be able to reverse its position as a pariah state and be welcomed back into the international community. Critics of the agreement, including Israel and a number of Arab states, believe that Iran will now feel free to press on with its regional agenda; one that threatens the stability and security of the entire region. Already Tehran is accused of interfering in the affairs of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. For Israel, Iran is seen as posing an existential threat that must be contained.
Much of these concerns are based on facts. Iran has become a major player in the region and is seen as being responsible for igniting sectarian confrontations in a number of Arab countries. The latest deal will boost its regional ambitions and deepen Arab suspicions, especially in the Gulf area. This is why President Obama has called on Gulf leaders to meet with him at Camp David in May to discuss regional security concerns.
But dealing with perceived Iranian threats will require much more than building pacts and investing in military hardware. The Arab order has been stagnating for decades. Today it is being challenged in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and others. Religious extremism and sectarian conflicts have evolved to present this dilapidated order with fresh challenges. And so far Arab response to these challenges has been confused and contradictory. To protect the national security of one state, the entire order must be rebuild from scratch. Only a strong Arab system that stretches from Morocco to Oman will be able to reinvent itself and be ready face regional competitors such as Iran, Turkey and Israel.
The conflict in Yemen presents the GCC with a tough challenge where military intervention will not be enough to end the Houthi rebellion and put the country back on the path of recovery. A land incursion will complicate matters further.
In light of Iran’s growing regional influence, Arab leaders must rethink their strategy. Fresh ideas are needed to build a regional coalition that is based on collective security and common sustainable development; two objectives that the Arab League has failed to achieve.
Only a strong Arab order can check Iran’s territorial and political ambitions. The challenges facing the Arab world today are complicated and diverse. They range from religious extremism to unemployment and poverty. A new approach to these challenges will have to be created; one that seeks to deal with the region as an entity and not with the plight of one country at the expense of the other.
This new Arab order will have to tackle security threats, regional crises as well as long-term social, economic and development issues. It will require a new definition of pan-Arab cooperation where the national security of one country becomes part and parcel of the security of all.
Today Arab national security is being tested in more than one country. What happens in Syria or Iraq will affect the stability of the rest of Arab countries. And the chaos in Libya and Yemen poses serious challenges to the entire Arab order and not only the GCC.
The fact is Iran would not dare meddle in the affairs of Syria, Iraq and Yemen if Arab countries adopted a united approach and a common strategy. And by the same token lack of such strategy will encourage Iran and others to interfere in Arab affairs.
What is needed now is to forge a plan to enhance inter-Arab cooperation along a comprehensive approach to the challenges facing this region. As a start the charter of the Arab League will have to be rewritten in a way that takes into consideration the realities of the region. The driving force will have to be economic cooperation that confronts the issues of unemployment and poverty; two main reasons for the growth of extremism in the region. It’s a tall order but leaders should act now in order to create momentum for a new regional bloc that will be able to defend the security and stability of the region.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view