Members of the Arab League have met in Cairo at the behest of the Saudi regime, to discuss the supposed “threat of Iran”. The meeting featured all the crude, undiplomatic and nonfactual language about Iran that one has come to expect from American, Israeli and Saudi Arabian spokesmen.
Highlights from the meeting included a statement from the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir who stated,
“We will not stand idly by in the face of Iran’s aggression….Showing leniency toward Iran will not leave any Arab capital safe from those ballistic missiles….
Iran created agents in the region, such as the Houthi and Hezbollah militias, in total disregard for all international principles”.
These meritless statements are almost identical to that which is frequently said by the US White House and Tel Aviv. In this sense, there was nothing novel about the meeting. What was remarkable was how hastily the meeting was organised as if to demonstrate Saudi’s commitment to its “clear and present danger” narrative about Iran.
Furthermore, a statement was released at the Arab League meeting, saying that there are no immediate plans to go to war with Iran but that at the same time, such plans have not been ruled out.
To quickly sum-up just how ridiculous the statements made during the Arab League meeting were
1. Iran’s missile programme is perfectly legal and is not covered by the JCPOA. The UN has said this many times.
2. Iran is currently at war with zero nations while Saudi is at war with Yemen causing one of the largest humanitarian disasters in the 21st century. Saudi Arabia has also been exposed as a major source of terrorist sponsorship, including in Iraq, Syria, Libya and beyond.
3. Iran has come to the legal assistance of Syria and Iraq in fighting terrorists groups including ISIS and al-Qaeda, while Saudi Arabia has known links to ISIS and al-Qaeda.
Of course, for the states with an obscene anti-Iranian agenda, none of this has ever mattered.
What does matter to the rest of the world though is whether the threats from the Arab league, indicated a short and/or medium-term readiness for war against Iran?
The short answer is, they almost certainly do not.
The Arab League today is a shadow of its former self. With the Syrian Arab Republic’s membership suspended, Qatar facing a boycott from proponent members, Iraq having better relations with Iran than most Arab states and Lebanon being deprived of its Prime Minister due to Saudi political meddling, the Arab League is hardly a united body of strong nations. It has declined so much so, that it is increasingly little more than a Saudi and GCC dominated organisation which is used in attempts to gain some form of broader international legitimacy for Riyadh’s often ridiculous foreign policy statements.
However, Riyadh’s ability to unite the Arab world over any matter, let alone an act of war, amounts little. Syria, Iraq and due to its multi-confessional history, Lebanon, would never go to war against Iran. In fact, the Iraqi armed forces, Syrian Arab Army, Hezbollah and other volunteers from Lebanon would almost certainly fight with Iran, during the course of any Saudi led military action against Tehran.
Qatar, whose armed forces are small as it is, would never join any military ‘crusade’ led by its Saudi opponent and the fact remains that Doha’s slowly expanding relations with Iran have been one of the reasons for the Saudi led boycott of Qatar. Libya can no longer be called a functional state, while further into the Maghreb, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco are far removed from Iran issue, in spite of their Arab league membership. Saudi’s GCC allies, Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain and to a lesser degree Oman, simply have little to offer in respect of any military coalition.
The biggest question mark which remains, is Egypt. Egypt is the largest country in the Arab world and likewise, boasts the biggest Army in the Arab world.
In order to even approach effectiveness, Egypt would have to join any would be anti-Iranian Arab League coalition. As to whether Egypt would join, one can objectively say that the incentives for not joining, far outweigh those that might compel Egypt to enter into a war pact with Saudi Arabia, against Iran.
Ever since secular rule was restored to Egypt in 2013, after US backed regime change against former President Hosni Mubarak briefly brought the once again illegal Muslim Brotherhood to power, Egypt has been in a position wherein promoting internal stability has been far more important than international outreach. Furthermore, while the Egyptian government is disproportionately dependant on Saudi cash injections in order to stay afloat, Cairo continues to show surprising amounts of foreign policy independence at times.
Egypt recently expressed disapproval of US attempts to extend a UN mandate for investigating “chemical weapons” in Syria. Egypt has further made strong statements in favour of Syria’s territorial unity, backed up by remarks that only a political solution can bring peace to Syria. This language is very similar to that used by Russian diplomats which should come as no surprise, as the foreign ministries of Egypt and Russia have a very good relationship. Furthermore, when it comes to Egypt’s most pressing international issue, that of terrorists in neighbouring Libya, Russia appears far more inclined to support the Cairo backed Libyan National Army than the fledgling Government of National Accord which is supported by the US and EU.
Furthermore, Egypt recently rejected calls from Riyadh to economically sanction the Lebanese party Hezbollah, in a move which shows a clear divergence from Saudi policies on Hezbollah.
While Egypt is compromised by its financial ties to Saudi Arabia, Egypt still seeks to balance out its old Arab Nationalist history as a fiercely independent and anti-imperialist nation with the modern realities of being far less influential than in the days of Nasser and the early days of Sadat.
Furthermore, in spite of its formal diplomatic ties with Israel, Cairo is all too aware that if the situation inside Egypt, especially in respect of the Sinai Peninsula were to become destabilised, Egypt could not afford to have its armed forces in distant Iran. This is especially true as Israel is ready to exploit any instability on Sinai to its own advantage. If anyone thinks that Israel somehow respects Egypt just because diplomatic relations were established, this view is, to put it mildly, delusional. Israel will exploit any country and any situation it can and Egypt is no exception. The same is true of Jordan, the only other country which has formal relations with Tel Aviv. Jordan, like Egypt is far more concerned with its own immediate neighbourhood than with Iran.
In this sense, in spite of whatever financial incentives Saudi might offer Egypt for backing military efforts against Iran, the preponderance of evidence would demonstrate that Egypt would refrain from actively participating.
When asked to consider the position of the Vatican in geo-political affairs, Josef Stalin is thought to have said, “The Pope? How many divisions has he got?”.
In this sense, looking at the disunity in the Arab world, Iran could easily turn to Riyadh and say “how many divisions have you got”? The answer is not enough to seriously challenge Iran, while Iran certainly has enough divisions and enough regional allies to challenge and beat Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies.
Then there is the matter of Israel, the US and Turkey.
When it comes to antagonising regional powers that Tel Aviv doesn’t like, the Israeli regime’s military is all too happy to conduct strikes and even occupy territory. Israel occupied party of Egypt between 1967 and 1982 and part of Lebanon between 1982 and 2006. Israel continues to occupy Syria and military strikes from Israel against Syria have happened on and off for the last several decades.
Likewise, Israel attacked Iraq in 1981 in a short airstrike against a French built Iraqi nuclear reactor.
All of these actions have been illegal and Tel Aviv simply doesn’t care. Why should they care about Iran in this case? The answer is because Iran today is far more powerful than any of the aforementioned countries that Israel attacked and it also has many regional allies stretching from Iran itself to the borders of Israeli regime controlled territory.
Israel has not attacked Iran in the way it has so frivolously attacked parts of the Arab world. Israel has not done this because Tel Aviv knows Iran would strike back and so too would Iran’s allies in southern Lebanon. Furthermore, with Turkey becoming ever more distant with NATO, the west and Israel, all the while growing ever closer to its Eurasian partners, including neighbouring Iran, there is no guarantee that Turkey would remain neutral in such a conflict.
Turkey does not want any instability on its border with Iran. This is one of the reasons that both countries cooperated in the building of an anti-terrorist rampart on their borders. Turkey knows that any further regional instability would only hurt Turkey’s short term security prospects and its long time financial prospects. If Turkey even gave air support to Iran, the entire conflict would be ‘game over’ for the anti-Iranian powers, unless Israel decided to use its nuclear weapons.
As Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah recently stated, Israel prefers short blitzkrieg style conflicts that it can win rapidly at little material cost or bloodshed from its own side. History has shown such an analysis to be absolutely correct. Furthermore, as Israel’s last attempt to conduct such a war against Lebanon in 2006 failed, Israel has reverted to measures which from its perspective are more realistically “productive” such as short, illegal airstrikes against Syria and military manoeuvres intended as provocations against Lebanon.
Any war with Iran would be much more difficult for Israel to conduct. In many ways it would be impossible, short of Tel Aviv using its nuclear weapons in what Israel watchers know to be called the “Samson Option”.
Such extreme measures would likely be opposed even by the United States. While the Trump administration continues to turn up the volume on anti-Iranian rhetoric, many more level headed individuals in the Pentagon and State Department are totally opposed to war on Iran. These people know that the cost of such a war would be incredibly high and that the US might ultimately lose.
In this sense, with Israel too afraid to attack Iran and while still too restrained by the US to go nuclear, with the Pentagon generally opposed to direct military action against Iran and with Saudi Arabia incapable of pulling together a genuine Arab coalition capable of fighting against Iran, there is little chance that any nation short of one on a suicide mission, would attempt to declare war on Iran.
Much like any war on North Korea, a war on Iran would bring unparalleled destruction to the entire region, and no invading party’s victory would be assured. In other-words, Iran has more or less checkmated the situation, largely in its favour and all without firing a shot, while if anything gaining rather than losing allies.
The Arab League, Israel and the US can certainly blow smoke, but when it comes to attacking Iran directly, even these countries are not quite foolish enough to start that fire.