The leaders of Arab League nations have officially agreed to form a unified military force to counter Iranian influence and Islamist extremism.
The agreement was announced at a meeting of the League of Arab States in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt amid U.S.-led nuclear talks with Iran, a crisis involving Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, and the threat of jihadists in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, notes BBC.
“Arab leaders have decided to agree on the principle of a joint Arab military force,” said Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, according to the British news outlet.
“The challenges facing our national Arab security are grave, and we have succeeded in diagnosing the reasons behind it,” he added, without elaborating on those reasons, reports The New York Times.
Mr. Sisi also said that the meeting in Egypt was “pumping the blood of hope in the arteries of Arab cooperation.”
Foreign ministers from various Arab states met in Egypt last Thursday and unanimously agreed to form a unified military force.
Analysts told The New York Times that the move to form a combined military force stems “in large part” from the Arab states’ “drive for more independence from Washington.”
Saudi Arabia and other Arab states considered to be allies of the United States view a proposed nuclear agreement with Iran “as a betrayal of Washington’s commitment to their security,” reports The Times.
“Regardless of Iran’s nuclear program, they complain, the deal would do nothing to stop Iran from seeking to extend its influence around the region by backing favored factions, as it has done in Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen,” mentions the article.
A number of Arab nations, including Egypt, Jordan, and nearly all of the Persian Gulf monarchies, have come together to form a 10-nation Saudi Arabia-led coalition against Iranian-backed Houthi Shiites in Yemen.
The Obama administration is only providing the airstrike campaign against the Houthis in Yemen with intelligence and logistical support.
Meanwhile, the Saudis are leading the strikes. Egypt, home to the largest Arab army, has vowed to put boots on the ground in Yemen “if necessary.”
Quoting Egyptian officials, The Associated Press reports that the joint Arab military force is expected to be made up of 40,000 elite troops, supported by war planes, naval vessels, and light armor.
The agreement between the Arab nations to form a military coalition came as Obama administration officials and other Western diplomats in Lausanne, Switzerland were working towards reaching a deal with Iran that would slow down its nuclear program in exchange for the removal of international sanctions.
Officials were trying to reach an agreement before the self-imposed deadline of March 31.
The Houthis in Yemen, in their fight to overthrow the U.S.-backed government, have seized control of the country’s capital Sanaa and other large cities.
In a message to the united Arab coalition, the leader of the Houthi movement pledged to transform Yemen into a “graveyard of invaders.”
“While the Houthis have received financial support from Tehran, the Iranians do not seem to exert a strong influence over the group as they do, for example, with Hezbollah in Lebanon,” declares The New York Times.
The U.S. intelligence community has linked the Houthis to Iran.
Follow Edwin Mora on Twitter: @EdwinMora83