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Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge

  • Heather Murdock

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, right, greets Jordan's King Abdullah II on his arrival to attend an Arab summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, South Sinai, Egypt, March 28, 2015.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, right, greets Jordan's King Abdullah II on his arrival to attend an Arab summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, South Sinai, Egypt, March 28, 2015.

For months, members of the Arab League have been calling for a joint military force to quell the violence engulfing the region. Now that member states have largely agreed, analysts say having the force materialize and preparing it to fight complex modern conflicts may be an insurmountable challenge.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi promised that military leaders would form a committee to figure out how to assemble an Arab League military force at the league's recent summit in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm-el-Sheikh.

He did not say exactly who will be in charge or where the force will go, but presumably Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Syria currently top the list.

Although most Arab heads of states and foreign ministers now agree that an international force of Arab fighters must, and will, be formed to secure the region, not all Arab League representatives agree.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jaafari is against intervention, noting it could make conflicts worse. Jaafari pointed out the elephant in the room: Many Arab countries are deeply divided either internally or externally or both, with Sunni countries and groups generally allying with Saudi Arabia, and Shia countries and groups allying with Iran.

Complex tribal and political divisions add to the existing chaos, with one regional newspaper calling the proposed "Unified Arab force" a "triple oxymoron."

According to Abdullah al-Ashaal, a former deputy foreign minister and ambassador in Egypt, these divisions could make it impossible for the Arab World to form a military.

“Since when are the Arabs united on anything? If they are united at any moment, tell me," he quipped.

And if they did unite enough to form a military, al-Ashaal says conflicting alliances could escalate the fighting.

For example, in Yemen, the Iranian-backed Houthis are fighting the Saudi-backed government. Intervention in Yemen, al-Ashaal explained, would be tantamount to war with Iran.

“What [are they] going to do with the force? To do what? To fight Iran?" he asked. "They will smash them all. Iran is very strong militarily.”

But political analyst Hisham Kassem says international forces are desperately needed to counter the threat of the so-called Islamic State militant group, and the United States, NATO and the United Nations are increasingly disinterested in direct Middle East intervention. As a result, he says, the Arab World has no choice but to act.

“It’s not an option. A force has to be created with some minimal support from the United States and Europe," he said. "Nobody at this point who is directly threatened can afford to say, ‘None of my business’ or ‘I don’t want my people killed.’”

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