Bahrain announces 'Arab NATO' to be formed by next year

DAILY SABAH
Istanbul
Published

A Saudi-led regional military alliance against Iran, expected to include Egypt, will be formed by next year, Bahrain's Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa announced over the weekend.

"It is an alliance for security and prosperity for the region and will be open to those who accept its principles," Khalifa said at a security summit in capital Manama on Saturday, as reported by Al-Jazeera.

The Arab NATO plan was reportedly discussed during a NATO meeting in 2017 after U.S. President Trump's efforts to cooperate with Gulf countries to isolate Iran in the region.

The Trump administration has pushed ahead with a plan for a new security alliance with six Gulf Arab states, Egypt and Jordan, in efforts to isolate Iran in the region while bolstering cooperation with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. The plan, which some in the White House and Middle East are calling an "Arab NATO" of Sunni Muslim allies is referred to as the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA). The aim of the Gulf security alliance is to draw a new map of regional alliances through establishing joint forces and intelligence sharing between Washington and regional states to defeat Daesh and most importantly face Iranian threats.

Sending a tough message to Tehran, shortly after pragmatist Hassan Rouhani was re-elected president, Trump urged Arab leaders to unite to defeat militants, and said Iran had for decades "fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror," during his first overseas trip to Saudi Arabia right after he was sworn in. Trump's choice of Saudi Arabia, Iran's bitter regional rival, for his first official foreign visit also reflects the deep antagonism of his administration toward Iran. However, relations between Saudi Arabia have been strained following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Concerns over the Gulf security alliance has also grown over the ongoing Saudi-led blockade on Qatar. Relations have remained strained between Riyadh and Doha since last year when Saudi Arabia, along with Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, severed diplomatic ties, accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism. The Saudi-led bloc also imposed a land, sea and air blockade on Qatar, with Riyadh sealing the Abu Samra border crossing linking the two Gulf States. Qatar denies the accusations and contends that the blockade against it violates international law.

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