Arab Leaders Agree to Form Unified Military Force

Egypt's Sixth President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi

Arab leaders agreed in principle to form a joint military force to confront growing regional instability, as a Saudi-led coalition pressed its bombing campaign against Yemeni rebels.

Arab chiefs of staff will work out the details of the joint force, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said in announcing the decision at an Arab League meeting in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. League Secretary General Nabil El-Arabi said the military chiefs will be invited to meet within a month, and a specific timetable will be set to map out the force’s formation.

“We will work together to develop collective mechanisms necessary to protect Arab national security,” El-Sisi said.

The decision capped a two-day session in the Red Sea resort town dominated by the Yemen crisis, chaos in Libya and the mounting threat posed by militants.

The idea has long been touted by Arabs, though regional rivalries have repeatedly stymied efforts to set up such a force among the league’s 22 member nations. El-Sisi has been promoting the idea for months, in part amid Arab frustration over international reluctance to intervene in Libya.

Mitigate Risk

“This idea is driven by the desire of some countries in the region to mitigate the risk of political instability that appeared in the past four years,” said Kamel Abdallah, a researcher at the Cairo-based Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. The operation in Yemen “highlighted the need for a permanent intervention mechanism,” he said by phone.

Saudi Arabia is heading a coalition of 10 Sunni-led nations attacking Shiite Houthi rebels, who took over the Yemeni capital and forced President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi to flee.

Leaders haven’t determined how this force will be used, El-Arabi said, while ruling out intervention in Syria’s civil war.

“Who will you intervene against? The Syrian situation is very complicated, and there are non-Arab parties in it,” he said. Intervention on behalf of the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel wasn’t discussed, he said.

Historically, bilateral alliances have been much more enduring and effective than region-wide ones, Abdallah said. “The details of the new Arab force, its command structure and operation mechanisms, will determine its viability,” he said.

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