About Me

My photo
MILITARY TECHNOLOGY (MILTECH) is the world's leading international tri-service defence monthly magazine in the English language. MILITARY TECHNOLOGY is "Required Reading for Defence Professionals". Follow us on Twitter: MILTECH1

05 January 2016

From an Islamic Military Alliance via a Strategic Cooperation Council to Victory?

Saudi Arabia and Turkey plan to create a Strategic Cooperation Council to strengthen military-, economic-, and investment cooperation. The issue was discussed during a two-day visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Riyadh last week.

“The meeting produced a desire to set up a high-level strategic cooperation council between the two countries,” Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister, told a joint news conference after talks between Saudi King Abdullah and Erdogan. According to the al-Jubeir, the Council will regulate security, military, economic, trade, energy, and investment ties between Riyadh and Ankara.

Erdogan arrived in Saudi Arabia for the third time in 2015 to discuss Syria and other regional affairs, including Yemen and Libya. Before his departure, the Turkish leader said that his government is working, “in solidarity and consultation,” to find a political solution for the Syrian crisis. Both countries have a similar stance on these issues – both are pushing for the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad from power.

Relations between Riyadh and Ankara deteriorated under previous Saudi leader King Abdullah, who spoke out against Turkey’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood group in Egypt. However, ties have improved since King Salman acceded to the throne in January 2015, as the new Saudi ruler has been seeking Sunni allies to counter the monarchy’s main geopolitical rival, Iran.

Turkey is also a member of the 34-nation Islamic Military Alliance, which was announced by Saudi Arabia in December 2015. The new Saudi-led Islamic alliance to fight terrorism will share information and train, equip and provide forces, if necessary, for the fight against so-called Islamic State (IS) militants, with a joint operations center based in Riyadh to coordinate and support military operations. The states it listed as joining the new coalition included Egypt, Qatar, the UAE, Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan, and several African nations. The list did not include Shia Muslim Iran, the arch rival of Sunni Saudi Arabia for influence across the Arab world. Tehran and Riyadh are ranged on opposite sides in proxy conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

Furthermore, Kuwait has decided to send troops to its neighbor Saudi Arabia to resist attacks by the Yemeni Houthi movement, the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas reported on Tuesday citing an informed source: “Kuwait decided on the participation of its ground forces, represented by an artillery battalion, in operations to strike at positions of Houthi aggression against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Though a nominal member of a Saudi-led coalition that has bombed the Iran-allied Houthis for nine months, Kuwait has held off sending ground troops to the conflict in which scores of soldiers from neighbors the UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia have been killed.

The Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen began in 2015 to influence the outcome of the Yemeni Civil War. Saudi Arabia, spearheading a coalition of nine Arab states, began carrying out airstrikes in neighbouring Yemen and imposing an aerial and naval blockade on 26 March 2015, heralding a military intervention called Operation "Decisive Storm."

The intervention began in response to requests for assistance from the internationally recognised but domestically contested Yemeni government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. The request was due to a Houthi tribal offensive aimed at its provisional capital of Aden. President Hadi fled Aden, left the country and went to Saudi Arabia as the coalition launched airstrikes against the Houthis and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was deposed in the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

Fighter jets from Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain also took part in the operation. Somalia made its airspace, territorial waters and military bases available to the coalition.

The United States provided intelligence and logistical support, including search-and-rescue for downed coalition pilots. It also accelerated the sale of weapons to coalition states. Pakistan was called on by Saudi Arabia to join the coalition, but its parliament voted to maintain neutrality. On 21 April 2015, the Saudi-led military coalition said they would be launching political and peace efforts, which they called Operation "Restoring Hope." However, the coalition did not rule out using force, saying it would respond to threats and prevent Houthi militants from operating within Yemen. Airstrikes and shelling continued under "Restoring Hope," including air attacks destroying the main runway at Sana’a International Airport.

A ceasefire between Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led military coalition has now formally ended after weeks during which it was regularly violated by both sides. The truce originally came into effect on 15 December 2015 as a show of good faith by both sides during peace negotiations taking place in Switzerland but the UN said there were, “numerous violations,” of the agreement from the start. Local al-Qaeda affiliates and IS have also exploited the chaos to make inroads into the country’s territory. According to residents and aid groups, Houthis have been indiscriminately firing on the city of Taiz in recent months and have blocked aid supplies getting through. 

Only a few days into the new year, the Middle East has already taken a significant turn for the worse. The region's greatest rivalry, between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has become rapidly and significantly more toxic in the past few days, and it could have repercussions across the Middle East.

On Saturday, protesters in Tehran attacked the Saudi embassy, ransacking and burning it as Iran ignored or refused Saudi requests to protect the building. Saudi Arabia formally broke off diplomatic relations with Iran on Sunday, on Monday saying it would cut commercial ties and ban Saudi travel to Iran as well. Sudan and Bahrain, both Saudi allies, severed ties as well.

In some ways, this sort of diplomatic confrontation was perhaps inevitable: Saudi Arabia and Iran see one another as enemies, and are locked in an escalating competition for influence and dominance of the Middle East. That rivalry goes far beyond just words, with both countries backing militant groups and proxy forces throughout the region, particularly in Syria. Their competition is a major driver of conflict in the Middle East, including the growing violence along Sunni-Shia lines. There had been hints that Saudi Arabia and Iran, perhaps exhausted by their conflict, might be willing to deescalate in 2016, maybe even finding peace deals for the wars in Syria and Yemen. But this week's events have ended those hopes, and suggest things may rather get worse. That's not just bad for Saudi Arabia and Iran - it is bad for the entire Middle East, as both regional conflicts, such as Syria and generalised Sunni-Shia tension, are likely to increase.

We are only four days into 2016, and already it is a year in which things in the Middle East have taken, impossible though it may seem, a significant turn for the worse