ATbar Saudi Arabya Announced a New Military Alliance to Fight terrorism
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Saudi Arabia Announced a New Military Alliance to Fight terrorism

27/12/2015 | by Shay, Shaul (Dr.)  

Saudi Arabia has said that 34 mainly Muslim nations have joined a new military alliance to fight terrorism. The new coalition was formed amid international pressure on Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states to do more in the fight against the Islamic State.            

The alliance was announced by Mohammed bin Salman, the country's defense minister and deputy crown prince, on December 15, 2015. Bin Salman said the states would work together to target "any terrorist organization, not just ISIS" in countries including Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Afghanistan. Military operations would work in accordance with local laws and in cooperation with the international community, he added.[1]

Prince Mohammed said the counter-terrorism force was born out of "the Islamic world's vigilance in fighting this disease [terrorism] which has damaged the Islamic world." Currently, every Muslim country is fighting terrorism individually... so coordinating efforts is very important."[2]

In an earlier press statement issued by the Saudi Press Agency, officials said the group would be led by Saudi Arabia, which would host a joint operations center in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, to coordinate efforts.[3]

Saudi Arabia’s Islamic anti-terror alliance will share information, and train, equip and provide forces if necessary for the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said at a briefing in Paris on December 15, 2015. Jubeir said the new alliance of Muslim states will work with big powers to battle the militants, saying “it is time for the Muslim world to be united to fight terrorism.”     
“Nothing is off the table,” al-Jubeir said when asked whether the initiative could include troops on the ground. “It depends on the requests that come, it depends on the need and it depends on the willingness of countries to provide the support necessary.”[4]

The 34 members of the alliance are: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Palestinians, Qatar, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.[5]

Saudi Arabia's regional rival Iran, and its allies, theAssad regime in Syria and Iraq, were excluded from the alliance, despite those countries facing a common enemy in the Islamic State (ISIS) .

Saudi Arabia has been leading a Gulf alliance fighting Iranian-backed Houthi militias in neighboring Yemen since March 2015.

The formation of the new coalition coincides with King Salman bin Abdulaziz granting the President of Yemen Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s request for a 7 day ceasefire, starting from December 154, 2015, which also coincided with the beginning of Yemeni talks to end the crisis.[6]  

The threat of ISIS

Most of the countries in the coalition are currently involved in military operations against ISIS or have been targeted by the group. ISIS, which has launched attacks on several Western targets in recent months, has issued warnings to Gulf States and have mounted a series of attacks on mosques and security forces in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.[7]

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have carried out air strikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq as part of the US-led coalition against ISIS and were targeted by the group in Yemen, where they are involved in a separate war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

ISIS strategically is ready to take on all their many enemies at once and the group has been clear in its desire to attack Saudi Arabiya and the Gulf states, initiating a series of attacks on Shiite mosques in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and terror attacks in Bahrain in an effort to foment Sunni-Shiite tensions, as well as attacking security forces in the states as well.

In August 2015, an ISIS suicide bomber killed 15 people, mainly Special Forces soldiers, at a mosque in Asir province, bordering Yemen. ISIS has also targeted Saudi Arabia's Shia minority, killing dozens in bomb attacks on mosques.

Saudi authorities have carried out raids culminating in the detention of hundreds of suspected ISIS members and sympathizers in response.

The option of military intervention in Syria

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states are discussing sending Special Forces to Syria as part of U.S.-led efforts to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on December 15, 2015. 

“There are discussions with countries that are currently part of the coalition, (like) Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain, about sending some Special Forces into Syria, and those discussions are ongoing.  It’s not excluded,” Adel al-Jubeir told reporters.
He said that the discussions were aimed at clarifying the needs and the objectives of such an operation, but that the picture should become clearer in the next few weeks.[8]

The U.S response

The United States welcomed the announcement of the anti-terrorism alliance. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told journalists in Turkey that:  "We look forward to learning more about what Saudi Arabia has in mind in terms of this coalition. But in general, it appears it is very much in line with something we've been urging for quite some time, which is greater involvement in the campaign to combat ISIS by Sunni Arab countries."

The Egyptian response

Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi met on December 15, 2015, with deputy Saudi crown prince and defense chief Mohammed bin Salman in Cairo hours after King Salman announced the formation of a Saudi-led Islamic military coalition. During the meeting, President el-Sisi said that Arab efforts should be targeted towards reaching political settlements for some of the crises that face some of the Arab states, which would ensure their stability and unity. El-Sisi said that the coalition is important in achieving the aforementioned goals and protecting the Arab states. "Areas of crisis are fertile grounds for extremism and terrorism to grow," he added.[9]

Both sides, according to a statement released by presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef, shared the same vision on the importance of "stopping bloodshed and working on ending these crises in the nearest possible time."[10]

Egypt’s foreign ministry said the country endorses the coalition, adding in a statement that “Egypt supports all efforts to defeat terrorism, especially if such efforts are Islamic or Arab.”[11]

Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the highest Sunni authority, said the decision to form the coalition is “historic.”[12]

Hours prior to Saudi Arabia announcing the formation of the coalition, Egypt's defense minister Sedki Sobhi met with Saudi ambassador Ahmed Ben Abdel-Aziz Qattan.

The German response

Meanwhile, Germany’s defense minister said on Tuesday that she welcomed Saudi Arabia’s announcement.
Ursula von der Leyen told German broadcaster ZDF the alliance would be of help if it joined other countries fighting ISIS, adding that militants had gained strength from disagreement among various opposition parties on how to fight or who to protect.[13]

The Turkish response

Turkey said it was set to assist anytime, anywhere. "Turkey is ready to contribute with all its means to all gatherings that aim to fight terrorism, no matter where or by whom they are organised," Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara.

Summary

By forming this alliance, the Arab Sunni countries have proven that they remain a force to be reckoned with in the region, even in the wake of the nearly five years of political division and deterioration of security that followed the Arab Spring and the challenges presented by Iran and ISIS.

In November 2015, King Salman called for further, significant efforts to “eradicate this (ISIS) dangerous scourge and rid of the world of its evils.”  The new 34-state Islamic coalition against terrorism puts operational heft behind these stirring words. Including predominantly pivotal Sunni states Egypt, Qatar, the UAE, Turkey, Malaysia, and Pakistan, the new coalition has both the diplomatic and strategic heft to potentially matter a great deal.[14]

The new alliance could be the start of a new Arab way in decisively and determinedly dealing with all problems and crises threatening the Arabs and harming their security.

However, it is doubtful whether this Sunni joining of forces could be translated in the short term into operational capabilities. There are many questions that should be answered, and one of them is the exact definition of terrorism and which groups in addition to ISIS will be designated as terror groups.

There are significant and unresolved disagreements among the Arab countries on a number of issues including Iran and the Shia alliance, how to solve the conflicts in Libya, Syria and Iraq, and how to fight against ISIS. 

Notes


[1] Saudi Arabia forms Muslim 'anti-terrorism' coalition, Al Jazeera, December 15, 2015.

[2]  Saudis announce Islamic anti-terrorism coalition, BBC News, December 15, 2015.

[3]  Saudi Arabia forms Muslim 'anti-terrorism' coalition, Al Jazeera, December 15, 2015.

[4] FM: Saudi, Gulf states discuss sending anti-ISIS troops to Syria, Al Arabiya, December 15, 2015.

[5] Saudis announce Islamic anti-terrorism coalition, BBC News, December 15, 2015.

[6] After the Success of “Operation Decisive Storm”, Riyadh Forms an Islamic Coalition to Defeat Terrorism, Asharq Al Awsat, December 15, 2015.

[7] FM: Saudi, Gulf states discuss sending anti-ISIS troops to Syria, Al Arabiya, December  15, 2015.

[8] Ibid.

[9]  Passant Darwish, Egypt's Sisi discusses newly formed Islamic military coalition with Saudi defense minister, Ahram Online, December 15, 2015.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13]  Saudi: deploying anti-ISIS troops not ruled out, Al Arabiya, December 15, 2015

[14] John C. Hulsman, The Saudi anti-terror coalition could be a game changer, Al Arabiya, December 15, 2015.