On 14 December, the Saudis announced the formation of a 34-state Islamic military coalition to fight terrorism. Saudi defense minister Prince Mohammed said, “Today, every Islamic country is fighting terrorism individually…. The new alliance emanates from the keenness of the Muslim world to fight this disease, which affected the Islamic world first, before the international community as a whole.”
According to the press, the headquarters and a joint command center will be based in Riyadh. Its purpose will be to coordinate and support military operations to fight terrorism and develop necessary programs and mechanisms to support these efforts.
The new coalition is composed of 34 countries and is led by Saudi Arabia. The 34 states are Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE, Pakistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Turkey, Chad, Togo, Tunisia, Djibouti, Senegal, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Gabon, Guinea, Palestine, the Comoros, Qatar, Côte d’Ivoire, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Maldives,Mali, Malaysia, Egypt, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Yemen. According to the news reports, “The formation of the coalition coincides with the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz granting the President of Yemen Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi’s request for a seven-day ceasefire, starting from today, which also coincides with the beginning of Yemeni talks to end the crisis.”
Saudi Arabia continues to assert its position as leader of the Sunni Islamic world. The Saudis apparently have called in lots of markers in order to pull togther the Sunni Muslim states.
While the target of the new alliance is terrorism, the terrorists are not identified. One of the more obvious and immediate targets would be the Sinai militants who have defied the best efforts of the Egyptian Army since June 2014, when President al-Sisi came to office.
Recent experience indicates that the leaders of most member states would agree that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is a terrorist organization, but sometimes even that is not clear. Most also would accept that al Qaida or at least some of its franchises are not terrorist organizations. Some accuse Israel of using terror against Palestinians.
The formation of a Sunni military coalition could be understood as an early preparation for an eventual showdown with the Iranians or possibly even with Israel. The Saudis and Gulf States also have bought arms for their own forces and for Egypt that have no relevance to counter-terror operations, but do enhance conventional force capabilities for a general war.
Israel will be highly suspicious of and vigilant about this new military coalition. One of the nightmare scenarios for Israel always has been the possibility that its Muslim enemies would overcome their chronic bickering to form a unified, effective pan- Muslim military organization.
It is far too early to judge the direction or effectiveness of the new coalition, but the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has drawn commitments of soldiers from more countries than seemed likely nine months ago. In the context of the new coalition, the Saudi-led Yemen operation stands out as a rehearsal for managing a much larger coalition for a much larger fight.
As a side note, the Saudi press description of Yemen President Hadi’s proposal for a ceasefire to coincide with peace talks makes Hadi appear to be a supplicant whose request was granted.