by Yusuf Dhia-Allah (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 3, Rajab, 1436)
No single Arabian army or a combination of them has ever won a single battle. Their sole achievement has been to conquer their own hapless people. A new plan proposes an “Arab” army; it will be used to suppress internal dissent, more efficiently!
Most people are familiar with the children’s story in which the mice fed up with the cat sneaking up and making a meal of them decided to put a bell around its neck. That way, they would be alerted to the approaching danger and escape into their holes before the cat pounced on them. The big question was: who will bell the cat? The Arabian rulers’ plan to create an Arab army is akin to the mice’s plan. The mice probably would have a better chance of succeeding than the Arabian rulers with their harebrained army plan.
With not a single victory to their credit in any war — not one — the Arabian rulers now want to create something like an Arab rapid deployment force. At the Arab League summit (March 28–29) in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi proposed on March 29 the creation of a 40,000-strong Arab army. While its exact purpose remains vague, the author of the plan gives the game away. The Egyptian dictator is desperate for cash. He wants to rent his army to serve as mercenaries for equally oppressive but weak dictators that are facing growing internal challenges from irate citizens. This is also the case in Egypt but since its army has the largest number of men under arms, why not utilize them to shore up fellow dictators, the Egyptian pharaoh thinks.
The reason given publicly for the creation of such an army was the potential for “civil war” in Yemen and to prevent its negative fallout on others, especially the Najdi rulers in the Arabian Peninsula. Statements by Arab League officials, however, reveal its true purpose: the proposed army would be called upon if a member state faced a security or safety threat. Thus, use of such an army against external threats is ruled out. Zionist Israel need not worry, they were saying. The Zionists are the Arabian rulers’ close allies. This has now become clear through their statements and actions. So the proposed army would act as an instrument of internal repression to prevent the collapse of dictatorial regimes rather than confront any external aggression.
General el-Sisi was all smiles when he made the announcement. Such a force has long been an ambition of the 22-member Arab League, but one whose creation had eluded them for decades. A number of factors seem to have gelled to make the announcement possible. Realizing it in practice, however, is a different matter. El-Sisi seemed to concede as much, “The Arab leaders have decided to agree to the principle of a joint Arab military force.” He said a “high-level” team would be created to look at the structure of the force.
In the past, Egypt and Saudi Arabia were on opposite sides, especially in Yemen in the 1960s. Now they are working in tandem. Changes in the region as well as challenges facing the two regimes have driven them into each other’s arms. The proposed Arab force comprising “elite troops” would have its headquarters in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, or the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
Apart from Egypt, who else would contribute the “elite troops”: Saudi Arabia? Forget it. Saudi troops are bone lazy and completely unreliable. The Najdis have been trying to rope in the Pakistanis for their ill-conceived mission in Yemen but so far with little success. This may yet change, but then it would not be considered an “Arab” force. Syria, Iraq and Lebanon have already said they are not interested. Oman is also out; it refused to join the Saudi-led attack on Yemen. Libya has been smashed beyond repair and has no army to speak of; Algeria and Tunisia will also not contribute any troops. That leaves such countries as Jordan, Morocco and Sudan. The other Arabian potentates — Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and the UAE — need protection themselves. So there isn’t much to choose from.
There are other problems as well that make the proposed force unlikely to come into existence and even if it does, it will be non-functional. Here is why. There are deep divisions within the ranks of the Arabian regimes. Most are extremely fickle and do not work with each other. Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Oman have already opted out. Other divisions cannot be ruled out either. The fundamental problem these regimes face is lack of political purpose and unity. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members are divided along different fault lines. For instance, Qatar has a border dispute with Saudi Arabia; the latter resents the Qataris accusing them of trying to punch above their weight in international affairs and encroaching on the Najdis’ territory. General el-Sisi has muttered, not so softly, that the cash-flushed Gulf sheikhdoms should share some of their wealth with his impoverished country. The list goes on.
Beyond these differences that will always be present, the proposed force will be voluntary. Each state will decide individually whether to join a particular mission. Given their divergent outlooks and interests, it will become extremely difficult to operate, if it ever comes into existence. Its voluntary nature contradicts Egypt’s plan to have 40,000 “elite troops” equipped with tanks, artillery and armor that will be backed by war planes and ships. It has not been spelled out as to who would supply such equipment and for how long if participation is on a voluntary basis. Perhaps these details might be worked out when chiefs of staff of the Arab League member states meet but questions are already being asked. Who will head such a force and for how long? And what happens if that country decides not to participate in a particular operation? Questions about its organizational structure, training, coordination, etc. are other issues that remain sketchy.
Stripped of all the high sounding rhetoric for which the Arabian rulers are notorious, what the proposed force boils down is two missions: it will be a “Sunni” force and it will oppose the Resistance Front to Zionism. In a region already reeling from heightened sectarianism, the force will only add to existing problems and weaken Muslims further. Additionally, given significant Shi‘i populations in a number of countries such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the so-called Sunni force will only exacerbate sectarian tensions. The ruling elites will not emerge unscathed either.
The fight against the resistance front while damaging to the countries and groups involved — Islamic Iran, Syria, Iraq, Hizbullah and Hamas — cannot succeed either. The overwhelming majority of Muslims throughout the world view the Zionist regime as illegitimate and usurpers of the Holy Land. Regardless of what the Arabian regimes might propose to do, they will not have much support from their own people in trying to appease the Zionists. Thus, instead of mobilizing public sentiment behind their policies, these will backfire on the regimes and perhaps short-circuit their existence.
Given these facts, it is evident that the Arabian force, if it ever comes into existence will consist primarily of Egyptian troops and will be financed by Saudi Arabia and some of the rich sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf. Its overriding purpose will be to crush internal dissent against oppressive regimes. The Palestinians need not look for help from the Arabian rulers as they struggle to rid themselves of the Zionist occupiers. They will have to rely on their own meagre resources with support from such friendly allies as Islamic Iran and Hizbullah.
Need one say more about the anti-Islamic nature of these Arabian regimes?