Today, countries are signing pacts and treaties for security, political and economic gools. The world powers like the US, Russia and China are making alliances to contain each other. It is a game of national interest for every country, for instance the US is pressurizing the Arab countries and other Muslim countries to recognize Israel. In the past, the Middle East has seen treaties like the Baghdad pact (CENTO) and SEATO. The oldest organization in the Middle East is the Arab League which was founded in 1945. The organization has 22 Arab States as its members with a population of 400 million. However, the organization has failed to meet expectations because of disputes among members and civil wars.

Today in the Middle East, the US is gradually pulling out of its role as security guarantor to Arab countries. Similarly, the Arab countries have now realized that they cannot rely on the guarantees of the US and West. It is likely that the US will not come to their rescue and aid in case of a military confrontation with Iran as it did not come to the rescue of Ukraine. The US and Saudi Arabia proposed a Middle East Security Alliance (MESA) in 2017 while Trump was in office. The alliance included GCC countries, Egypt, Jordan and the US. This was built to counter Iran without the intervention any foreign power.

On 24 June 2022, King Abdullah of Jordan while speaking to an American channel said that he would support a Middle Eastern alliance similar to that of NATO. The idea of an Arab NATO has been discussed in the past too by the US to counter the increasing threat to the region from Iran. The existing defense mechanism in the Middle East is not that powerful and Arab states think they need such an alliance to not succumb to Iranian power. The alliance will likely cooperate on missile defense, sharing of intelligence, military cooperation, counter terrorism and also in improving diplomatic and economic ties among member countries.

Let us analyze the threat to Arab states and Israel from Iran. Israel believes Iran is attempting to encircle it from Syria and Lebanon. Russia is controlling Syria and supporting the civil war along with Iran and Hezbollah. Then there is alliance of Iran with Iraq and Syria to control Lebanon. The Arabs too consider Iran a threat to their sovereignty. In Yemen, Houthis are loyal to Iran and battling Saudi led coalition, and Iran is also supporting pro-Iranian militias Hamas, Islamic Jehad and Hezbollah. The Arabs are also afraid of Iran becoming a nuclear power and have urged the US not to revive 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. The Arabs are also concerned about the growing influence of Iran in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

The countries that would make up Arab NATO are Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Israel. The inclusion of Israel is a message to Iran to improve its relations with Arab neighbors and also not to interfere in Arab issues. In the past the US has been the main security guarantor. However, it appears that now responsibility has been given to Israel to take the lead. If one carries out a comparison of military power of Iran and the proposed alliance, Iran still enjoys numerical superiority. However, with the inclusion of Israel, the proposed ‘Arab NATO’ enjoys strategic superiority in weapons, fire power and technology.

There are fears and concerns too among the would-be member states in ‘Arab NATO’ about big countries like Egypt and Saudi Arab dominating the remaining tiny Arab counties. Then there is rivalry among Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar and Egypt and Qatar. We have recently seen the forced blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia. Then the issue of Palestine for majority Arabs is of a serious concern as they may not compromise on it. This is evident from the fact that Saudi Arab has improved its ties with Israel but is reluctant to recognize Israel because of the Palestinian issue.

During the recent visit of President Biden to Saudi Arabia, the issue of an ‘Arab NATO’ was not discussed. Pakistan can play the role of a mediator between Arabs and Iran as it has offered several times in the past. Peace in the region is in the interest of Pakistan and it has remained a neutral based on its economic, sectarian and geopolitical realities. Pakistan should continue to play the role of a bridge and peace maker in the region.