Five days after Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it had formed a 34-state Islamic, military coalition to combat terrorism, the coalition continues to unravel with a number of countries denying their participation, while others denounced the alliance.
Officials in Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia declared they had not formally agreed to join the Islamic anti-terrorism military bloc, with some of them announcing they were informed of the coalition’s existence through news reports.
Retired major in the Saudi armed forces Anwar Eshki said the real motives behind the alliance are to “purify” the Islamic world from terrorism, before outsiders intervene to combat terrorism, as well as to defend the reputation of Islam. He added that whoever denounces the coalition is explicitly announcing their support of terrorism.
As questions arise over the feasibility of coordinating military action across such a diverse consortium of actors, Head of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies Abdel Moneim Said explained that the military part of the coalition will require a smaller number of participating countries, thereby easing the logistical manoeuvring.
It will also require the participation of countries that have previously trained with the Saudi army. “I see it as a political statement that Muslims are ready to defend terrorism, but building coalitions takes time,” Said added.
Said added that the coalition poses questions over the criteria used to choose the participating countries and whether the Saudi authorities coordinated with the 34 states before announcing the coalition.
“Saudi Arabia is already part of Arab and international coalitions in Yemen and against “Islamic State” (IS), so what is the need for another coalition?” Said questioned.
“I however understand the Saudi point of view, especially with the rise of voices saying that IS is an Islamic problem, in its origin, so it is better that Muslims solve it, instead of waiting for a foreign interference,” Said added.
Besides the blunder accompanying the announcement of the coalition, the geography of the alliance itself is perplexing, as well. The 34 invited countries are scattered across three continents with nothing that connects them except for being Sunni-majority nations.
The inclusion of countries with no real military power or wealth like Palestine and Lebanon, at the same time that Indonesia, the largest Muslim majority nation, was excluded, raised questions about the Saudi criteria.Eshki however rejected these claims, saying that fighting terrorism should not be limited to military and financial capacities only. “Terrorism is not combated through military operations and money only. Terrorism is faced by ideas and strategic plans as well,” Eshki said.
Excluding Iran has raised similarly questions about the real motives of the coalition, with analysts claiming that the kingdom is actively trying to maintain it as a Sunni-coalition rather than a Muslim one. Some voices said the exclusion of the Shi’a-majority country is a Saudi attempt to force its control over the Islamic world to rival the rise of the Iranian influence in the region.
Eshki however said the exclusion of Iran was not based on sectarian reasons, but rather due to the Republic’s involvement in terrorism. “Iran is accused by the US and Europe of supporting terrorism and planning terrorist attacks. They need to renounce their terrorism history, before they join an antiterrorism coalition,” Eshki said.
Leaving out countries like Iraq, one of the major victims of terrorism that Saudi Arabia intends to combat raises controversy over how the Saudi coalition will carry out their military operations without the agreement of the Iraqi government.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi described the Saudi announcement to fight terrorism without consulting Iraq as a paper coalition. He said the coalition excluded countries that have been battling terror for years and included others that have backed terror and refused to provide assistance in fighting it.
Eshki however said whoever wants to join the coalition is welcomed to do so, saying that the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation was the entity responsible for inviting the participating countries. He however could not confirm if Iraq received an invitation.
According to Said, building coalitions requires political and diplomatic efforts to foresee the expected problems. “It might have been clear that the coalition would raise this Sunni-Shi’a issue, and that’s why they could have invited Iraq to avoid it, especially as it is one of the countries that suffer from terrorism,” Said explained.
He also said if the coalition will carry out military operations against IS, it will have to do so through Iraq, as they are the closest country to the targets.