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27 Nov, 2017 17:57

Endgame Iran? Saudi-led ‘Arab NATO’ paves way for regional showdown

Endgame Iran? Saudi-led ‘Arab NATO’ paves way for regional showdown

Muhammad bin Salman has been kicking up a lot of sand since being made Saudi Crown Prince in June and heir apparent to the throne. Unfortunately, his latest initiative, an ‘Arab NATO,' promises to be just as successful as his other efforts to date.

If the world escapes the latest brainchild of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) with nothing more serious than a regional fender-bender we should count our lucky stars.

In December 2015, MbS, serving as the youngest-ever Saudi defense minister, first trumpeted the idea of a ‘Muslim Alliance’ built along the lines of a NATO-style military bloc. Because the 29-member, US-led military bloc is such a positive role model, right? The Saudi variety called for a pan-Islamic coalition of 41 countries allegedly dedicated to fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

Smoldering in the background of this doomed-to-fail project was Yemen, where a civil war continues to rage between multiple players, including not least of all Saudi Arabia, with the assistance of the United States (On Sunday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry accused the US of being “complicit, and responsible for” Saudi Arabia’s “crimes against Yemen”).

However, with ISIS largely neutralized in Syria, and Saudi intervention in Yemen creating a humanitarian nightmare, it probably came as little surprise that one of the first duties of the ‘Muslim Alliance’ was to hire the services of Burson-Marsteller, a New York-based public relations firm, to polish the image before putting out the awning. To briefly sum up the work of this international PR firm, Rachel Maddow described it best when she quipped, “When evil needs public relations, evil has Burson-Marsteller on speed dial.” 

Today, the group, which now goes by the high-sounding name of ‘Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC),' has announced a new set of directives that resemble a blood-stained page torn from the George W. Bush playbook.

“Today we start the pursuit of terrorism, and we see its defeat in many facets around the world, especially in Muslim countries... We will continue to fight it until we see its defeat,” MbS told defense ministers who gathered in Saudi Arabia for the military bloc’s summit. “In past years, terrorism has been functioning in all of our countries... this ends today, with this alliance.”

It doesn't take long to see some severe shortcomings with this organization. First, of the 41 official members, none hail from a Shia-dominated government, an oversight that automatically and conspicuously excludes Iran, Iraq, and Syria. This is no small snub, and flies in the face of Riyadh’s assertion that ‘Arab NATO’ is not designed with the likes of Tehran and Damascus in mind, to say nothing of Beirut.

After all, many Shia countries have suffered untold death and destruction at the hands of the terrorist group Islamic State, and others. Thus, if any countries deserve the protection of an anti-terror bloc, it is certainly Iran, Iraq, and Syria.

Second, the Saudi proposal comes amid some very trying times for Riyadh. Although it actively advocated on behalf of President Bashar Assad being ousted as Syrian leader, those plans were dashed as Syrian forces, with the direct assistance of Russia and Iran, virtually eliminated IS, practically assuring Assad’s grip on power.

Now Riyadh, obviously insecure despite Tehran’s relatively insignificant incursions in the region, is clearly overreacting, threatening to throw the entire region into turmoil.

This became evident on November 4 when the Saudi crown prince triggered an avalanche of events that began when Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, flew to Riyadh to announce his resignation. The reason was just as strange as announcing it from a foreign capital: "Iran and Hezbollah."

"I say to Iran and its allies - you have lost in your efforts to meddle in the affairs of the Arab world," Hariri said, adding that the region "will rise again and the hands that you have wickedly extended into it will be cut off."

Since making his shock announcement, Hariri, who many Lebanese believed was being held against his will by Riyadh, has gone on a whirlwind tour that saw him pay a visit to French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris before returning to Lebanon - despite his stated fears of being a possible target of “assassination.”

Shortly after Hariri’s arrival in Riyadh, the crown prince arrested 11 princes and a number of diplomats and businessmen, and they are still being detained at the Riyadh Ritz Carlton, apparently negotiating for a very expensive release. 

Arguably the most disturbing event that tumultuous day, however, came as MbS blamed Iran for a missile that was launched at the outskirts of Riyadh - and reportedly intercepted - from Yemeni territory.

Meanwhile, MbS, has been launching some verbal projectiles against Iran that failed to miss their mark. 

The Crown Prince took his offensive against Tehran to the lowest common denominator when he said Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the “new Hitler of the Middle East” in a fawning profile by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times.

“But we learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work,” bin Salman told Friedman. “We don’t want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East.”

Those astounding comments, which went practically unchallenged by Friedman, came just days after Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said, "Iran is the number one state sponsor of terrorism" in an interview with US television network CNBC. 

Finally, it is interesting and not a little worrisome that this Saudi-inspired military bloc is being dubbed the “Arab NATO.” Aside from NATO being guilty of its own series of serious misdeeds, which run the gamut from Serbia to Iraq, and many places in between, it appears MbS’s recent moves are not without some heavy American influence.

For example, just weeks before Hariri got the call to report to Riyadh where he made his dramatic announcement, Donald Trump's senior advisor, Jared Kushner, traveled to Saudi Arabia for high-level meetings.

According to Foreign Policy, Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, has had three trips to Saudi Arabia "since Trump took office."

If the past behavior of US-led NATO is any indication of things to come, the world has some good reason to be very concerned about this ‘Arab NATO’ and where it will lead us.

Is the goal of Saudi Arabia to use this military bloc to really fight against the scourge of terrorism, or does it have far more dangerous objectives in mind? 

The answer is of consequence for every person on the planet.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.