Posts Tagged ‘Anwar Gargash’

Erdogan visits Gulf in hope of easing Qatar crisis

July 23, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | This file photo taken on July 08, 2017 shows Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend a news conference on the at the G20 Summit in Hamburg. On July 23 he began a tour of the Gulf to defuse the row with Qatar

JEDDAH (SAUDI ARABIA) (AFP) – President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began on Sunday a key visit to the Gulf region aimed at defusing the standoff around Turkey’s ally Qatar, saying no one had an interest in prolonging the crisis.

Erdogan arrived in Jeddah to meet the Saudi leadership before heading to Kuwait, and on Monday to Qatar for his first face-to-face talks with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani since the crisis began.

“No one has any interest in prolonging this crisis any more,” said Erdogan at Istanbul airport before leaving on the two-day trip.

He accused “enemies” of seeking to “fire up tensions between brothers” in the region.

Erdogan praised Qatar’s behaviour in the crisis, saying it had sought to find a solution through dialogue. “I hope our visit will be beneficial for the region,” he said.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut ties with Qatar accusing it of backing extremism and fostering ties with their Shiite rival Iran. Doha denies the claim and has been strongly backed by Ankara throughout the standoff.

The crisis with Qatar has put Turkey in a delicate position and Erdogan has repeatedly said he wants to see the end of the dispute as soon as possible.

Over the last years, Qatar has emerged as Turkey’s number one ally in the Middle East, with Ankara and Doha closely coordinating their positions on a number of issues including the Syria conflict where both are staunch foes of President Bashar al-Assad.

Crucially, Turkey is in the throes of setting up a military base in Qatar, its only such outpost in the region. It has sped up the process since the crisis began and reportedly now has 150 troops at the base.

“From the first moments of the Qatar crisis, we have been on the side of peace, stability, solidarity and dialogue,” said Erdogan.

– ‘Saudi, Gulf’s elder statesman’ –

But Turkey, which is also going through a turbulent time with the European Union and the United States, also does not want to wreck its own relations with regional kingpin Saudi Arabia.

As well as meeting King Salman, Erdogan is also due to hold talks with Mohammed bin Salman for the first time since he was elevated to the role of crown prince and his father’s heir in a dramatic June reshuffle of the royal house.

“As the elder statesman in the Gulf region, Saudi Arabia has a big role to play in solving the crisis,” said Erdogan, taking care not to explicitly criticise the kingdom.

Erdogan said he supported the mediation efforts of Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, a possible indication Ankara sees Kuwait as the key to solving the crisis.

The Qatari emir said Friday he was ready for talks to resolve the crisis so long as the emirate’s sovereignty is respected.

His call received a cold reception from the UAE’s state minister for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, who said he hoped the emir had pledged to reconsider Qatar’s position.

“Dialogue is necessary, but it should be based on a revision” of Qatar’s stance, he tweeted.

Erdogan is likely to get a warm welcome in Doha where Turkey has been loudly applauded for sending in food, including fruit, dairy and poultry products by ship and by plane to help Doha beat an embargo.

Turkey has also benefited, with its exports to Qatar doubling in the last month to over $50 million. According to the economy ministry, Ankara has sent around 200 cargo planes filled with aid since the crisis began.

Erdogan’s tour concides with a visit to Kuwait by the EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, who held talks Sunday with Kuwaiti officials.

Mogherini voiced earlier this month the EU’s support to Kuwaiti mediation.

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Qatar crisis: UAE denies hacking news agency

July 17, 2017

BBC News

The UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, denies it hacked Qatar’s news agency.

The United Arab Emirates has denied it was behind the alleged hacking of Qatar’s state news agency in May.

The Washington Post cited US intelligence officials as saying the UAE had orchestrated the posting of incendiary quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir that he insisted were fabricated.

The incident helped spark a diplomatic rift between Qatar and its neighbours.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told the BBC on Monday the Post’s report was “untrue”.

He also reiterated that the UAE and five other Arab nations had not written to Fifa to demand that Qatar be stripped of the right to host the 2022 World Cup.

Swiss news network The Local said a fake news story quoting Fifa president Gianni Infantino had been posted on a copycat website on Saturday.

The Washington Post’s story cited unnamed US intelligence officials as saying newly-analysed information confirmed that on 23 May senior members of the UAE government had discussed a plan to hack Qatari state media sites.

Screengrabs showing the allegedly fake news story were posted on TwitterQNA/INSTAGRAM
Screengrabs showing the allegedly fake news story were posted on Instagram

Later that day, the official Qatar News Agency quoted Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani as criticising US “hostility” towards Iran, describing it as an “Islamic power that cannot be ignored”, and calling Hamas the “legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”.

Qatari officials said the agency had been hacked by an “unknown entity” and that the story had “no basis whatsoever”. However, the remarks were reported across the region and caused a stir.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt responded by blocking Qatari media.

Two weeks later, the four countries cut all links with Qatar over its alleged support for terrorism and relations with Iran. The boycott has caused turmoil in the oil- and gas-rich emirate, which is dependent on imports by land and sea for the basic needs of its population of 2.7 million.

The US intelligence officials told the Washington Post it was unclear whether the UAE authorities had hacked the Qatar News Agency itself or paid a third party to do it.

The Guardian reported last month that an investigation by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had concluded that freelance Russian hackers were responsible.

US intelligence agencies declined to comment on the Post’s article, but the UAE’s ambassador insisted that it “had no role whatsoever in the alleged hacking”.

“What is true is Qatar’s behaviour. Funding, supporting, and enabling extremists from the Taliban to Hamas and Gaddafi. Inciting violence, encouraging radicalization, and undermining the stability of its neighbours,” Yousef al-Otaiba wrote in a statement posted on Twitter.

Map

Qatar has acknowledged providing assistance to Islamist groups designated as terrorist organisations by some of its neighbours, notably the Muslim Brotherhood. But it has denied aiding jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda or so-called Islamic State (IS).

Mr Gargash told the BBC that Qatar’s denial had been contradicted by its agreement to review a list of 59 individuals and 12 organisations who the UAE has accused of supporting terrorism and wants arrested or expelled.

“What we know now is that Qatar is admitting that the list is worthy, that the list needs to be looked at, and that they need to change some of their laws to ensure that there is a proper process to cover this list,” he said.

Mr Gargash said Qatar’s neighbours were prepared to continue the boycott for months if it did not comply with the list of demands it was handed last month and agreed to international monitoring.

“I understand the concern of our allies,” he added. “But the issue is that we are being hurt, and the world is being hurt, by a state that has $300bn (£230bn) and is the main sponsor of this jihadist agenda.”

But, he added, the four states would not escalate the boycott by asking companies to choose between doing business with them or with Qatar.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-40630602

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Tillerson Faces Tough Gulf Talks on Ending Qatar Row — “Tillerson has, since the beginning of the crisis, appeared to be taking the Qatari side”

July 12, 2017

DUBAI — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson faces an uphill task in persuading four Arab states to end a boycott of Qatar in talks on Wednesday after the four labeled a U.S.-Qatar terrorism financing accord an inadequate response to their concerns.

Any resolution of the dispute has to address all the key concerns of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, including Doha’s undermining of regional stability, a senior UAE official said ahead of the talks in Saudi Arabia.

The four countries imposed sanctions on Qatar on June 5, accusing it of financing extremist groups and allying with the Gulf Arab states’ arch-foe Iran, charges Doha denies. The four states and Qatar are all U.S. allies.

Tillerson will meet his counterparts from the four countries in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah to advance efforts to end the worst dispute among Gulf Arab states since the formation of their Gulf Cooperation Council regional body in 1981.

Shortly after Tillerson signed a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday in Doha on combating the financing of terrorism, the four countries issued a statement labeling it inadequate.

They also reinstated 13 wide-ranging demands they had originally submitted to Qatar but had later said were void.

The 13 include curbing ties to Iran, closing Al Jazeera TV, closing a Turkish military base in Qatar and the handing over of all designated terrorists on its territory.

ABSENCE OF TRUST

The four boycotting states said in a joint statement they appreciated U.S. efforts in fighting terrorism.

“… (but) such a step is not enough and they will closely monitor the seriousness of Qatar in combating all forms of funding, supporting and fostering of terrorism,” the statement said, according to UAE state news agency WAM

Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said the dispute was rooted in an absence of trust and that any solution must address the four states’ grievances.

“Diplomacy must address Qatar’s support for extremism and terrorism and undermining regional stability. A temporary solution is not a wise one,” he wrote on Twitter overnight.

“We have a unique opportunity to change (Qatar’s support for terrorism). This is not four Gulf states feuding.”

The United States worries the crisis could impact its military and counter-terrorism operations and increase the regional influence of Iran, which has been supporting Qatar by allowing it to use air and sea links through its territory.

Qatar hosts Udeid Air Base, the largest U.S. military facility in the Middle East, from which U.S.-led coalition aircraft stage sorties against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Some Gulf Arab media took a critical stance towards Tillerson ahead of his visit to Jeddah.

“What makes Wednesday’s meeting in Jeddah difficult is that Tillerson has, since the beginning of the crisis, appeared to be taking the Qatari side,” a commentary published in Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat and Arab News newspapers said on Wednesday.

“Tillerson cannot impose reconciliation, but he could reduce the distance between the parties in the diplomatic rift — all of which are his allies — rather than taking the side of one against the other,” wrote columnist Abdulrahman al-Rashed, the former general manager of the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya channel.

(Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Qatar urges US intervention to resolve Gulf crisis as Turkey reiterates its support

July 2, 2017

US President Donald Trump has backed the Arab boycott of Qatar, even though it is home to a major US airbase

The Associated Press

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 July, 2017, 11:25am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 July, 2017, 10:53pm

Qatar on Friday called on its ally the US to play a “vital role” in resolving an escalating dispute between the Gulf emirate and its neighbours.

Last month, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic ties and transport links with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism, a charge Doha denies.

“The American role is vital as all parties to the conflict are allies of Washington,” Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said.

Kuwait, another Gulf country, has been acting as a mediator to resolve the crisis, one of the most serious in the region in recent years.

“The US administration plays an active role in supporting the efforts of the emir of Kuwait, but also committed to mediation between the conflicting parties,” Mohammed said at the Washington-based Arab Centre, according to the Qatari Foreign Ministry.

The American role is vital as all parties to the conflict are allies of Washington
QATARI FOREIGN MINISTER MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN AL-THANI

US President Donald Trump has backed the Arab boycott of Qatar, even though it is home to a major US airbase. However, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week called for the countries locked in the dispute to sit down and discuss their differences.

“The American president could have made sure that the state of Qatar does not support terrorism if he listened to the US government departments which the state of Qatar deals with,” the Qatari official said. “These departments know the efforts of Qatar in the fight against terrorism.”

Last week, Qatar disclosed a list of 13 demands by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.

The demands include downgrading ties with Iran, a regional rival of Saudi Arabia; stopping support for Islamist groups; and shutting down the Doha-based television broadcaster Al-Jazeera and its channels.

Meanwhile, Turkey on Friday said the rights of Qatar must be respected as it hosted the defence minister of Ankara’s main Gulf ally.

Khaled bin Mohammed al-Attiyah met with Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik at the defence ministry in Ankara, the state-run news agency Anadolu said on Thursday.

The meeting came as Ankara, which has stood by Doha during the crisis, resists pressure from Qatar’s neighbours to close a ­Turkish military base in the emirate.

In the talks, Isik said that “the current issues between the [Gulf] countries, who are brothers, must be resolved soon on the basis of a sincere dialogue and respect for Qatar’s rights”.

 The skyline of Doha, Qatar. Photo: Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the allegations levelled against Qatar are baseless and offered Ankara’s full support.

Turkey has provided food and other aid through hundreds of planes and a cargo ship, although Ankara’s tries to mediate between the sides have so far come to nothing.

Crucially, Ankara is also setting up a military base on the emirate that is set to give Turkey a new foothold in the Gulf, sending in a first deployment of two dozen troops.

The current issues between the [Gulf] countries … must be resolved soon on the basis of a sincere dialogue

TURKISH DEFENCE MINISTER FIKRI ISIK

Erdogan has criticised the Saudi-led demands, saying the sweeping demands were “against international law” and that asking for the withdrawal of Turkish troops was a “disrespect to Turkey”.

Yet Ankara has also been careful not to directly criticise Riyadh and previously urged the kingdom to lead tries to solve the crisis.

Qatar has until Monday to comply with the demands or face diplomatic isolation in the long term, according to media reports.

Arab countries argued on Friday at a meeting of the World Trade Organisation that the group’s free trade rules can be suspended for Qatar, invoking an emergency clause to justify their blockade against the Gulf country.

Qatar said at the meeting that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain are violating fundamental WTO rules, according to participants.

Speaking for these three countries, Bahrain countered that their measures are in line with Article XXI of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which allows a country to take emergency “for the protection of its essential security interests”.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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Qatar, Defying Deadline, Faces New Threats by Neighbors

July 2, 2017

Saudi-led group floats possible actions if Doha doesn’t bow to its demands

Updated July 2, 2017 8:23 a.m. ET

DUBAI—Qatar faces a potential volley of new punitive measures by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states as it is unlikely to bow by Sunday to their demands in the worst regional diplomatic crisis in years.

The kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have cut diplomatic ties and imposed a transport ban against Qatar, accusing Doha of supporting extremist groups and meddling in their domestic affairs, charges that Qatar denies. On June 22, they gave Qatar 10 days to give in to 13 demands that include closing down state broadcaster Al Jazeera, curbing ties with Iran and ending Turkey’s military presence on its soil.

Qatar has indicated that it won’t meet the demands, which would amount to a radical policy overhaul. Qatar’s economy has been resilient so far, but could suffer deeply if the transport ban remains and other economic sanctions are imposed.

The Arab states, on issuing the demands, didn’t specify what they would do if Qatar doesn’t comply, but have since floated publicly and privately a number of possible measures aimed at deepening Qatar’s isolation and hurting its economy.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson walks with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani at the State Department on Tuesday.Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

Commercial restrictions could be put into place to raise the pressure, Reem al-Hashimi, the U.A.E.’s minister of state for international cooperation, said in June. Qatar’s opponents are considering telling allies to sever commercial ties with Qatar or else lose business ties with them, according to a person familiar with the matter.

U.A.E. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on June 24 that Qatar could be expelled from the Gulf Cooperation Council, a six-member political and economic bloc that includes Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman.

Qatar’s stock market, which resumed trading after a weeklong religious holiday, fell Sunday as investors worried about the crisis’ impact on the country’s economy. The benchmark QE Index closed down 2.3% at 8822.15, pulled lower by consumer-goods stocks.

Doha has remained defiant and is likely to reject the demands. Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, said Saturday that the 13 demands “were meant to be rejected” and that the country continues to favor dialogue to put an end to the diplomatic dust-up, according to a statement from the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He also reiterated earlier comments that said the ultimatum, which expires at the end of Sunday local time, was focused “on undermining and infringing on the sovereignty of Qatar.”

Doha is seeking help from the U.S. to resolve the dispute, while Abu Dhabi and Riyadh want the U.S. to back their efforts to isolate their neighbor.

Qatar: What It Owns, Which Countries It Trades With

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has appealed for calm and reconciliation, urging the two sides to use the list of demands as a starting point for negotiations.

Qatar’s rejection of the demands will likely escalate the crisis, unless the U.S. pushes for a negotiated settlement, according to political-risk advisory firm Eurasia Group.

The country, whose wealth is largely derived from its natural-gas resources, has been the strongest economic performer in the region, according to data from FocusEconomics.

Qatar has tried to cushion the economic blow by establishing new shipping routes via Oman or by rerouting flights of flag-carrier Qatar Airways. Doha has also turned to Turkey and Iran to preserve its food imports.

Related reading

  • Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Bahrain and Egypt Cut Diplomatic Ties With Qatar
  • Gulf Allies Draw U.S. Into Mideast Rift
  • U.S. Says Some Demands on Qatar Will Be Difficult to Meet
  • Arab States Demand Qatar Close Al Jazeera, Shut Turkish Base
  • Graphics: Qatar: What It Owns, Which Countries It Trades With

Qatar’s Central Bank on Friday sought to assuage fears that the domestic currency, which is pegged to the U.S. dollar, is under pressure.

“The exchange rate of the Qatari riyal to the U.S. dollar is completely stable, and its conversion inside Qatar and abroad is guaranteed at any given point at the official price,” the bank said.

Some British banks have stopped trading Qatari riyals, putting pressure on the currency. “This currency is no longer available for sale or buyback across our high street banks,” said a spokesperson for Lloyds Banking Group , which includes Lloyds Bank, Bank of Scotland and Halifax. This is because the third-party supplier that fulfills the bank’s foreign-exchange service has stopped trading in riyals, the spokesperson said Friday.

Qatar’s economy, thanks to its large foreign reserves, is able to withstand a period of relative isolation at least for now, according to London-based research and strategy firm Arabia Monitor.

“The short-to-medium term economic impact of the Qatar rift will be expensive for Doha but bearable,” Arabia Monitor said. “Qatar’s reserves can defend the currency, even though the pressure on it could rise further,” it said.

—Asa Fitch in Dubai and Max Colchester in London contributed to this article.

Write to Nicolas Parasie at nicolas.parasie@wsj.com

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/qatar-defying-deadline-faces-new-threats-by-neighbors-1498996801

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UAE sees ‘parting of ways’ if Qatar does not accept Arab demands

June 25, 2017

Reuters

By Aziz El Yaakoubi | DUBAI

A senior United Arab Emirates official said on Saturday that if Qatar did not accept an ultimatum issued by fellow Arab states which imposed a boycott this month on the tiny Gulf Arab nation, there would be a “parting of ways”.

The 13-point list of demands from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE include closing the Al Jazeera satellite television network, curbing relations with Iran, shutting a Turkish base in Doha and paying reparations.

The demands are apparently aimed at dismantling Qatar’s two-decade-old interventionist foreign policy, which has reflected the clout generated by its vast natural gas and oil wealth but incensed conservative Arab peers over its alleged support for Islamists they regard as mortal threats to their dynastic rule.

Doha said it is reviewing the list of demands and that a formal response will be made by the foreign ministry and delivered to Kuwait, but added that the demands are not reasonable or actionable.

“The alternative is not escalation, the alternative is parting of ways, because it is very difficult for us to maintain a collective grouping,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told reporters.

He said diplomacy with Qatar remained a priority, but added that mediation efforts to resolve the dispute had been undermined by the public disclosure of the demands.

“The mediators’ ability to shuttle between the parties and try and reach a common ground has been compromised by this leak,” he said. “Their success is very dependent on their ability to move but not in the public space.”

Gargash said that if Qatar fails to comply within the 10-day timeline set out in the ultimatum, it will be isolated. But he did not make clear what more could be done since the four Arab nations have already cut diplomatic relations with Doha and severed most commercial ties.

The most powerful Middle Eastern country to stand with Qatar in the dispute has been Turkey, which has rushed through legislation to send more troops to its base in Doha as a sign of support.

Two contingents of Turkish troops with columns of armored vehicles have arrived in Doha since the worst crisis among Gulf Arab states for years erupted on June 5.

Gargash said the Turkish deployment was a “meaningless escalation” and he hoped Ankara would act in a “reasonable way”.

“We hope that Turkey prioritizes the interest of the Turkish state and not partisan ideology,” Gargash said.

Turkey, whose President Tayyip Erdogan has his roots in an Islamist political party, and Qatar have been the main backers of the Muslim Brotherhood movement that challenges Arab rulers.

Kuwait is helping mediate the dispute as is the United States, for which it has posed a challenging test since Qatar hosts a base housing the headquarters of U.S. air power in the Middle East as well as 11,000 troops.

The Sunni Muslim Arab group that imposed the sanctions on Qatar accuse it of funding terrorism, fomenting regional unrest and drawing too close to their Shi’ite Muslim enemy Iran. Qatar rejects those accusations and says it is being punished for straying from its neighbors’ backing for authoritarian rulers.

The uncompromising positions adopted by both sides leave little prospect for a quick end to the crisis.

The sanctions have disrupted Qatar’s main import routes by land from Saudi Arabia and by sea from big container ships docked in the United Arab Emirates. But Qatar so far has avoided economic collapse by quickly finding alternative channels and says its huge financial reserves will meet any challenges.

(Writing by Stephen Kalin and Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Qatar casts aside list of demands by Arab states

June 25, 2017
Doha calls ‘illegal blockade’ unreasonable and nothing to do with fighting terror
 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip wave their national flag and the flag of Qatar during a demonstration in solidarity with the people of Qatar after the sanctions were announced. Photo credit AP

UAE says ready to commit troops to fight Syria jihadists

November 30, 2015

AFP

The UAE is a member of the US-led coalition carrying out air strikes against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, and the country is now saying it is ready to commit ground troops

ABU DHABI (AFP) – The United Arab Emirates has said it is ready to commit ground troops against jihadists in Syria and described Russian air strikes in the country as attacks on a “common enemy”.Quoted by the official WAM news agency on Monday, Emirati State Minister for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said the UAE would “participate in any international effort demanding a ground intervention to fight terrorism”.

“Regional countries must bear part of the burden” of such an intervention, he said during a Sunday discussion on Syria.

The UAE is a member of the US-led coalition carrying out air strikes against the jihadist Islamic State group in territory under the jihadists’ control in Syria and Iraq.

As the jihadists have held out against more than a year of strikes and launched operations abroad including the November 13 attacks in Paris, there have been growing calls for the anti-IS intervention to expand to a ground force.

Russia launched its own strikes in Syria in late September and Iran has reportedly sent hundreds of troops to support President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Critics — including in the West and Sunni Arab Gulf nations — have accused Russia of targeting moderate rebel forces as well as jihadists.

In the UAE’s first official reaction to the Russian strikes, Gargash said “we agree that nobody will be upset by the Russian bombardment of Daesh or Al-Qaeda as it targets a common enemy.”

Daesh is an Arabic acronym for IS.

Gargash also suggested the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen — which has seen Arab countries including the UAE send ground troops against Iran-backed rebels — could be “an alternative model” to Western intervention in the region.

“The global strategy to fight terrorism is no longer fruitful or enough,” he said.

On Sunday, US senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham called for 100,000 foreign soldiers, most from Sunni regional states but also including Americans, to fight IS in Syria

Uncertain of Obama while U.S. policy remains unclear — Arab States Gear Up for War

March 30, 2015

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A pan-Arab coalition with a patchy record steps up as Yemen falls apart and U.S. policy remains unclear

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, left, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri give a press conference at the conclusion of an Arab summit meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, South Sinai, Egypt, Sunday, March 29, 2015.   
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, left, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri give a press conference at the conclusion of an Arab summit meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, South Sinai, Egypt, Sunday, March 29, 2015. Photo: Associated Press
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By  David Schenker and Gilad Wenig
The Wall Street Journal
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Few organizations boast a reputation of dysfunction comparable to the Arab League’s. Over seven decades the Arab League has distinguished itself through infighting and fecklessness. But now, with the Obama administration seen as missing in action in the Middle East, the alliance of 22 countries is undergoing a renaissance. Over the weekend, the Arab League met in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and endorsed the creation of an intervention force to fight terrorism in the

Regional backing for the force came days after a mostly Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes targeting the Iran-backed, nominally Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, who last week sacked the provisional capital of Aden and drove Yemen President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi into exile.

While developments in Yemen added to the urgency, discussions about a pan-Arab force have been under way for months. The main driver is Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, whose country faces a terrorism problem, and he is supported by such key Sunni Arab leaders as King Abdullah II of Jordan and King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

“The task of the force,” Arab League Secretary General Nabil el-Araby said on March 26, “will be rapid military intervention to deal with security threats to Arab nations.” These threats include groups like the Houthis and Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq.

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The concept of an Arab military force isn’t new. Since its establishment in 1945, the Arab League has deployed several peacekeeping and expeditionary forces, with decidedly mixed results. The so-called Arab Deterrent Force was established in 1976 to help end the Lebanese civil war. In the end, the force facilitated the Syrian army’s decades-long presence in Lebanon.

In 1982 the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) contributed troops to the Peninsula Shield Force, a detachment intended to counter Iranian subversion. With the exception of a 2011 deployment to repress a popular uprising in Bahrain, though, the 40,000-strong unit has never seen combat.

Seven Arab states participated in the U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait in 1991. After the war, the GCC agreed in principle to build a regional military inclusive of Egypt and Syria, but the effort stalled. The delay led then-chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Lee Hamilton, to take Washington’s Gulf allies to task: “What they are really doing is relying on the U.S. as their security guarantor. And if they get into trouble again, they are going to blow the whistle.”

Notwithstanding Mr. Hamilton’s warning, Washington has served reliably as the guarantor of Gulf security for much of the past 25 years. But lately, as the Obama administration has moved closer to a nuclear deal with Iran—and as Tehran has expanded its influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen—Washington’s traditional Sunni allies are increasingly concerned about a diminished U.S. commitment.

The willingness of Arab states to finally sacrifice blood and treasure to defend the region from terrorism and Iranian encroachment is a positive development. But it also represents a growing desperation in the shadow of Washington’s shrinking security role in the Middle East.

After the start of the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen, United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash described the intervention as “a new page of Arab cooperation for security in the region.” Although the initial progress was promising, it is not clear the enthusiasm will endure—or be effective.

The most important Arab League contribution in Yemen would be a troop deployment. But it is far from clear that Arab states would be willing to sustain casualties. Cairo has indicated that it would send combat troops to Yemen, yet the Egyptian public may be sensitive to fatalities: 50 years ago Egypt lost 26,000 soldiers in an ill-fated military intervention in Yemen. Saudi Arabia deployed troops to fight the Houthis in 2009-10 but withdrew after three months when casualties started to mount.

There are also concerns about the military capabilities of Arab coalition partners. While Sudan, Jordan and Egypt have contributed air assets to the Yemen campaign, these states reportedly cannot fly night sorties. Consider that in the past four months, Arab allies in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition have conducted only about 8% of airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. Already, just days into the campaign, Saudi Arabia and Sudan have reportedly lost aircraft. In the absence of a significant U.S. role, logistics maintenance and interoperability may also pose problems.

Then there is the matter of priorities. The Saudis and the Emiratis are narrowly focused on reversing Iranian gains in Yemen. Egypt, whose economy is underwritten by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, considers Gulf security paramount.

But Cairo has other, more proximate strategic concerns. In addition to a burgeoning ISIS-led insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, Libya is fast becoming a failed state. Earlier this year, 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians were executed by ISIS in Libya. Terrorists and weapons continue to flow across the frontier.

There is also the question of where Washington stands on more robust regional Arab military action. In February the Obama administration condemned Egypt for retaliatory airstrikes against ISIS in Libya. More recently, though, the White House welcomed Arab-coalition efforts in Yemen and is providing logistical and intelligence support.

But will Washington—which is providing air support to Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq targeting ISIS—provide similar backing to the Sunni Arab force? Based on how the Arab League is proceeding, the Arabs don’t appear to be counting on it.

Mr. Schenker is the director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where Mr. Wenig is a research associate.