The World on Fire
Counter-Terror Alliance—Or Counter-Shia?

Saudi Arabia has announced the creation of a coalition of 34 Islamic nations to fight against global terrorism. Reuters reports:

A statement carried by Saudi state news agency SPA said the new coalition would have a joint operations center based in Riyadh to “coordinate and support military operations”.

The states it listed as joining the new coalition included Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan and several African nations.

The list did not include Shi’ite Muslim Iran, the arch rival of Sunni Saudi Arabia for influence across the Arab world. Tehran and Riyadh are ranged on opposite sides in proxy conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

While United States Secretary of Defense Ash Carter hedged that, “We look forward to learning more about what Saudi Arabia has in mind in terms of this coalition,” he also added that “But in general it appears it is very much in line with something we’ve been urging for quite some time, which is greater involvement in the campaign to combat ISIL (Islamic State) by Sunni Arab countries.”

For her part, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen cautiously welcomed the announcement, even as she rejected calls by the United States for Germany to contribute more militarily in the fight against ISIS. Former British Foreign Secretary William Hague was also warm on the announcement, saying he hoped the coalition could with time transform itself into a NATO-style alliance committed to its members’ mutual defense.

Multinational initiatives are a dime a dozen; ones that accomplish anything are much rarer. It remains to be seen what, if anything, this one will get up to. But the Sunni-centric nature of the force is worth keeping an eye on. The Sunnis, and particularly Saudi Arabia, have been terrified that the nuke deal with Iran means the U.S. is acquiescing to Tehran’s regional hegemonic ambitions. American passivity in Syria has served in Saudi eyes to confirm this. And when asked if the coalition would fight against ISIS, Saudi Arabia’s 30-year old Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that the coalition would fight “any terrorist organization that appears in front of us.”

We’ve quipped before that President Obama’s foreign policy has realized the unlikely achievement of bringing together Saudi Arabia and Israel—in opposition to Obama’s regional policies, and in fear of Iran. Now, the President may be uniting the wide world of Sunni Islam.

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