According to Defense News, the US administration is pushing ahead with plans for a new security alliance, tentatively dubbed the “Middle East Strategic Alliance,” or MESA, which is to include Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain. An official announcement is expected to come during the Oct. 12-13 US-Gulf summit in Washington. Obviously this is a serious attempt to create a new security architecture in the region.
The issue was raised during US President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia last year. At that time, Saudi officials broached the idea of a security pact and the US president strongly supported it. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi aspire to take on the leading roles. The Arab NATO-style alliance will be focused on the establishment of regional missile defense, personnel training, and the acquisition of weapons that will upgrade the Arab states’ militaries. The Arab nations poised to join the alliance have no indigenous defense industries, which will mean increased profits for US arms manufacturers.
A collective defense clause is likely to be included in the list of the Arab NATO members’ common commitments. The need to protect the Persian (Arab) Gulf shipping routes is another rallying point for those nations. The formation of this new bloc is taking place as US sanctions are being abruptly reinstated on Iran, with the August embargoes to be followed by an even more damaging round in November. Support for the idea of creating a pact is bolstered by the fact that the Arab League has evidently failed to engage in peacekeeping, stabilization, or humanitarian operations in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA region).
The United States has a strong military presence in the Persian Gulf. Iran and Yemen are the only countries of the region that don’t host US military facilities. The US military uses large air installations in Qatar and has expanded its operations in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman. Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The US has encouraged the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states to purchase the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile-defense systems. The Patriot Advanced Capability-3 is already being used by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, and Bahrain. The UAE and Qatar are also protected by THAAD systems. US leadership is indispensable for making those systems interoperable.
It is worth noting that the THAAD in Qatar is supported by AN/FPS-132. Its range of 5,000 km. (3,100 mi.) far exceeds the requirement to counter a missile threat coming from Iran. Normally the AN/TPY-2 radar with a range of 1,500 km. (932 mi.) to 3,000 km. (1,864 mi.) is used to support the THAAD. The maximum instrumented range is 2,000 km. (1242 mi.). This radar is deployed to support THAAD operations in South Korea. The 5,000 km. range is excessive for countering a missile approaching from Iran. But the range of the AN/FPS-132 allows it to monitor large parts of Russia. It makes the Qatar-based AN/FPS-132 radar an element of the emerging US global missile-defense system that was created to counter Russia’s strategic nuclear forces.
Evidently Iran, in addition to Hezbollah, is being used as a bogeyman to justify the need for a new alliance. As President Trump put it, “Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States.” Now it appears that anyone prepared to oppose Iran is welcome to become a US ally.
But is the alleged menace coming from Iran enough to unite the nations mentioned above? Only Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain view Iran as an enemy they might go to war against. Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait maintain normal relations with that country. Jordan and Egypt have never said they viewed Tehran as an existential threat. The UAE, Saudi Arabia (the largest buyer of US weapons), and Bahrain are united against Qatar, a country that is home to a large US military base. Saudi Arabia even planned to invade Qatar in 2017. Diplomacy has so far failed to bridge those differences. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are also divided by their divergent views on the situation and their respective roles in Yemen. It is thus a tall order to bring all these nations together.
In truth, it’s hard to understand why the US needs the Middle East so much. No country from that region poses a threat to US territory. America has recently become the world’s largest energy producer. If the Gulf is blocked by Iran that won’t be so damaging to the United States. But the formation of this alliance will promote the interests of the US defense industry. Once it is in place, it’ll have a mandate to intervene and conduct operations that violate the sovereignty of other states in the region — such as Syria, for example. The US has reportedly installed air–defense and electronic radar systems in Kobani, the Aleppo governorate in northern Syria, and on the territory of the al-Shaddadi base in the Hasakah province as one more step on the path toward establishing a no-fly zone in northern Syria stretching from Manbij to Deir ez-Zor. If that happens, the US will stay in Syria for a long time, and it will need an alliance to support its actions militarily and diplomatically.