Mordechai de Haas
Ger; Haredi; retired Lieutenant Colonel; Russian security academic

Middle East needs NATO-type military alliance

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As I wrote recently, totalitarian regimes, such as those of Russia and Iran, only listen to the barrel of the gun, or a tough political stance. For appeasement and concessions there is no place in their thinking. Once again, the West is negotiating with Teheran to prevent it from reaching a nuclear power status. Iran is making absurd demands but the West continues to talk with the ayatollahs, thus providing them time to progress on their nuclear weapons development. Hence, the West gives a wrong signal to Iran. What can be done to prevent Iran from threatening Israel and other moderate states in the Middle East?

What about the stance of the West towards Iran? Here we see a weak, appeasing attitude of the West – the USA and Europe – towards Teheran. How long is the West willing to continue negotiating with an Iran that has proven to be unreliable, by repeatedly violating agreed monitoring of its nuclear energy installations? To the moderate countries of the Middle East, it must be clear that the USA and Europe are not much of a help in solving the threats posed by Iran, with regard to its efforts in procuring nuclear weapons, as well as concerning the ‘export’ of its Islamic revolution by proxies in Lebanon (Hezbollah), Yemen (Houthis), Syria and Iraq.

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) demonstrate increasing cooperation with Israel – both bilaterally, as well as within the Abraham Accords – but also remains on a good level with Iran. This possibly out of fear, since Abu Dhabi realizes that alone it cannot cope with the military threat from Teheran. Recently, the UAE suffered from drone attacks on the city of Abu Dhabi by Houthis from Yemen, in which oil tankers and the airport were hit. Allegedly, the Houthis have attacked the UAE more than once before. The Houthis rebels are supported by Iran, whereas the UAE supports a Saudi-led coalition, which fights against the Houthis. Thus, the fact that Abu Dhabi maintains good relations with Teheran, does not protect it from an attack by proxies of Iran. Perhaps the UAE is making the wrong bet. Other moderate Middle Eastern states are also not capable of countering the threat from Iran.

A possible solution to the vulnerability of the moderate countries of the Middle East would be establishing security cooperation. Regarding military cooperation in the Middle East, NATO’s endeavors in that region might be a possible starting point. The Western Alliance has two formats of cooperation with the Middle East; the Mediterranean Dialogue (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia) and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE). Perhaps the experience that the participating countries have gained in these two NATO formats could be transferred to a format of security cooperation in the Middle East. Obviously, this will not be an easy undertaking. There is more that these states divide than unite. For example, cooperation with Israel is a non-issue for Algeria, Kuwait and Qatar, but teamwork with Israel is established with Egypt and Jordan in their respective peace treaties, and with Morocco, Bahrain and the UAE in the format of the Abraham Accords. The positions of the various Middle East states on Iran also differ. Nevertheless, taking steps towards some form of collective defense is better than the current situation of unilateral security by individual states, whilst looking at Iran in fear.

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Perhaps the Abraham Accords can be a meaningful point of departure for security cooperation in the Middle East, especially the following clause from its UAE-Israel Treaty:

“They undertake to take the necessary steps to prevent any terrorist or hostile activities against each other on or from their respective territories, as well as deny any support for such activities abroad or allowing such support on or from their respective territories.”

If security cooperation, initiating from the format of the Abraham Accords, demonstrates to be successful, then other moderate Middle Eastern states are likely to join. A NATO of the Middle East, with an integrated political-military infrastructure, might still be far away, but gradual steps ahead are feasible. The building of NATO’s infrastructure took a long time and contrasting views are also a feature of this alliance. Nevertheless, its member states share common goals that keep them together. Therefore, the moderate countries of the Middle East should no longer wait and see, but take thoughtful steps towards a united political-military stance to increase the security of their nations. The start of such a Middle Eastern security cooperation could serve as a clear signal to Iran or to any other actor that means a threat to the region.

About the Author
Lieutenant Colonel Royal Netherlands Army (retired) Dr Mordechai de Haas holds a PhD on Russian security policy. He was an Affiliated Professor and Research Fellow on Russian security policy towards the Middle East at the National Security Studies Centre of Haifa University. Previously, he was a Full Professor of Public Policy in Kazakhstan. In 1980 he served with UNIFIL in Lebanon, as a conscript of the Dutch army. As an officer he held positions at Army Staff, the Royal Netherlands Military Academy, NATO School and the Netherlands Institute of International Relations 'Clingendael'. At Defence Staff he was the editor of the first Netherlands Defence Doctrine.
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