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Is a ‘Middle East NATO’ with Israel Back on the Table?

April 16, 2024 (EIRNS)—The U.S. and Israel may believe that the answer to that question, in the aftermath of Iran’s April 13 attack, is “yes.” The U.S. has long been engaged in an effort to form some kind of security containment of Iran involving, in particular, the Gulf Cooperation Council states and Israel, and possibly including Jordan and Egypt. While the Hamas Oct. 7 attack threw a major monkey wrench into that effort, it was in trouble well before then, as shown by the China-mediated rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, followed by both countries joining the BRICS-Plus.

Now the idea of a NATO-like defense arrangement in the Persian Gulf is, for some, coming back with a vengeance. The Wall Street Journal implied in a report yesterday on the “fragile coalition” that came together to defend Israel last weekend, writing: “The formidable display of collective defense was the culmination of a decades-old but elusive U.S. goal to forge closer military ties between Israel and its longtime Arab adversaries in an effort to counter a growing common threat from Iran. But the U.S.-led effort to protect Israel in the days and hours before the Iranian attack had to overcome numerous obstacles, including fears by Gulf countries at being seen as coming to Israel’s aid at a time when relations are badly strained by the war in Gaza.”

One of the barriers that was supposedly overcome was Israel’s campaign of genocide in Gaza. “The challenge was to bring all those countries around Israel” at a time when Israel is isolated in the region, one official said. “It was a diplomatic issue.”

In a separate report a few hours later, the Journal indicated that Arab involvement, aside from Jordan’s, was limited mainly to providing intelligence on Iranian activities, some of which, it appears, came from Iran itself in the form of briefings to counterparts in neighboring countries. “The Saudis and Emiratis shared intelligence that contributed to an overwhelmingly successful defensive response to a sprawling Iranian air attack, said Arab officials,” the Journal reported. “However, they stopped short of giving Washington everything it wanted, denying the U.S. and Israel use of their airspace to intercept missiles and drones, the officials said.” The Journal includes comments from regional experts indicating that both the Saudis and the U.A.E. just want to keep out of the fray and take care of their own interests, which they see threatened by a regional war.

Middle East Eye undercut the Journal’s suggestions, in their report. They first cited current and former U.S., Israeli and Arab officials that that radar and early warning systems that the U.S. maintains at its military bases across the Gulf admittedly were instrumental in tracking Iran’s slow-moving armada of missiles and drones. Hence, the U.S. was able to effectively scramble jet fighters from Saudi Arabia and Qatar at the last minute to participate in the operation. “But in the end, the oil-rich Gulf states downplayed any involvement and left the heavy lifting of fighting off Iran’s attack to the U.S., its western allies and Jordan, the resource-poor Hashemite Kingdom dependent on U.S. financial assistance.”

They cited Bilal Saab, a former U.S. Department of Defense official, now at Chatham House, judging that the Gulf states’ calibrated actions underscored the limits of the Biden administration’s push for a Middle East NATO. “When we start seeing authorisations to use Gulf airspace to launch strikes on Iranian targets, then we can start talking about a Middle East NATO. Right now, it’s the exact opposite,” he said. “I think what we saw from Saturday’s attack pumps the breaks on any idea of an Arab and Israeli NATO.”