Arab NATO?: Prospects for Future Security Cooperation

Jordanian King Abdullah II endorsed the idea of a NATO style alliance between Arab countries last month [source]. The monarch’s comments have spurred speculation about prospects for closer security cooperation among regional partners and rivals alike. Previous suggestions for a NATO style alliance in the Middle East and Persian Gulf have failed to gain traction [source].

Key Judgement 1: It is highly unlikely that Arab and Gulf states will form a NATO-style alliance in the next 12 months.

  • The matter of Iran’s nuclear program and proxy militias in Syria, Iraq and Yemen poses a security risk to Saudi Arabia and Israel [source], [source]. Even so, Iran maintains good relations with a number of key states [source].
  • Conversely, while Iraq has made overtures to Tehran and Riyadh to jumpstart regional cooperation between the two rivals, these efforts are in their nascency [source]. 
  • Iran and Russia have a seemingly strong capacity for security cooperation, with Russia seeking to purchase Iranian drone technology [source]. However, Iran is reportedly displeased with Russia. Moscow is undercutting Iranian oil with lower prices in Asian markets [source].
  • Russia fosters relationships with Arab states unfriendly to Iran such as the UAE and Bahrain, as well as states which rely on Iranian proxy forces such as Syria, further complicating future avenues for security cooperation [source].

Key Judgement 2: There is a realistic probability that Israel will fail to normalize relations with additional Arab states and Gulf monarchies within the next 12 months.

  • Israel has successfully normalized relations with Sudan, the Emirates, Morocco and Bahrain in the last few years [source]. 
  • Israel’s advanced missile defence system, cyber security software, and conventional armaments are desirable to Arab states who fear the threat of Iran’s ballistic missile program [source]. 
  • Houthi militias in Yemen demonstrated unconventional yet effective drone and missile capacities by targeting Saudi critical infrastructure [source]. 
  • Full diplomatic normalization with Saudi Arabia is complicated by the building of settlements in the West Bank [source].
     
  • Oman has long considered itself a neutral player in the Persian Gulf and values its relationship with Iran [source].
  • Qatar has allowed overflights and travel of Israeli’s visiting for the 2022 World Cup. Israeli officials have expressed a degree of public optimism over the lessened restrictions on travel [source]. However, Qatar’s Foreign Minister explicitly disqualified any possibility of normalization within the foreseeable future [source]. 

Key Judgement 3: It is highly likely that Israel will pursue greater security and trade cooperation with its new regional partners in the next 12 months. 

  • Israeli weapons exports reached new records this year. 7% of all Israeli arms exports went to Persian Gulf states [source]. That number will only grow as Iran’s nuclear program advances into its final stages.

  • Most of Israel’s arms exports are comprised of missile and air defense systems. These exports reflect the looming presence of Iran’s ballistic missile program [source]. The UAE and Israel signed a landmark free trade agreement in February [source]. Other Arab states, however, have proven unwilling to follow the Emirate’s example vis a vis Tel Aviv.
     
  • Trade with Israel’s neighbours, Jordan and Egypt, likewise increased in the last year [source]. Similarly, Israel bolstered its ties with its new partners by establishing the Negev Forum in June [source]. The forum provides a diplomatic architecture for deepening Israel’s wider role in the Arab world. 
  • A senior Israeli official stated that the “long term goal” is to bring the Saudis into the framework [source]. Israel will likely prioritize thawing relations with Saudi Arabia in the next 12 months. 
  • Egypt and Morocco have reportedly insisted on representation for the Palestinian Authority in the Negev Forum [source]. It is unclear if Palestinian participation would positively affect the outcome of a future peace deal or halt the construction of settlements in the next 12 months. 

Intelligence Cut-Off Date: July 7, 2022

Alec Smith
Alec Smith
Alec Smith is a graduate of the MSC International Relations program of the University of Aberdeen and holds an LLB in Global Law from Tilburg University.

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