Jordanian King Abdullah II told CNBC he would support a NATO equivalent in the Middle East.
“I would be one of the first people that would endorse a Middle East NATO,” the Jordanian king told CNBC. “But – the mission statement has to be very, very clear. Otherwise, it confuses everybody.”
His statements came as Israel joined the U.S.-led Middle East Air Defense Alliance (MEAD) last week. MEAD already has been operating successfully “in the face of Iran’s attempts to attack the region’s countries using rockets, cruise missiles, and UAVs,” said Israel Defense Minister Benny Gantz on June 20.
Israel’s decision to join the alliance comes ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to the region next month.
An unnamed spokesperson told Breaking Defense that the White House “strongly support[s] Israel’s integration into the broader Middle East region.” Observers suggest that MEAD likely will come to include Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt and/or Jordan as an axis of partners.
Per the question of a military alliance in the Middle East, King Abdullah told CNBC, “I believe you can build a NATO with like-minded countries and that is something I have always believed in.”
Abdullah noted Jordan’s rapid deployment force and long history of active involvement with NATO all over the world.
“The relationship with NATO is actually – we’re partners, and I’d like to see more countries in the area come into that mix,” he said. “That relationship with NATO is extremely special. We are fighting shoulder to shoulder and have been for decades.”
According to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Jordan has served alongside NATO in the Balkans, in Afghanistan and in connection to Libya, while NATO has helped Jordan improve border security and defuse explosives.
“I’m hoping what you’re seeing in 2022 is this new vibe, I guess, in the region to say, ‘how can we connect with each other and work with each other,’” King Abdullah said to CNBC.
In the face of challenges arising from Russia’s war on Ukraine, “All of us are coming together and saying, ‘How can we help each other’,” the king said.
King Abdullah has told the media that the UAE and Saudi Arabia are working on establishing an axis of “moderate” Arab states that will be more open toward cooperation with Israel in efforts to enhance regional security — including in air defense.
“Iran’s hostile actions, along with its ongoing nuclear program, are raising fears everywhere in the region and has transferred Iran into a common enemy or adversary to many Arab and non-Arab countries in the Middle East,” King Abdullah said.
Some Arab analysts say there is not an actual military alliance being formed between Israel and these Arab states, but rather an axis based on mutual interests.
“I would not say there is a military alliance being formed … because an alliance involves drafting written agreements that would be binding to all the signatories,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a UAE political science professor. “What we have is more of an axis taking shape based on understandings between Israel and other Arab states.”
Others think the Middle East is about to see major changes in Israeli-Arab relations.
“The region is on the verge of major changes that I expect to materialize in the very near future and it will include a form of security cooperation between Israel and Arab states,” said Abdullah Ghanem Al-Qahtani, a retired major general of the Royal Saudi Air Force. “This is only logical if we take into consideration the threats posed by Iran and its allies to most countries of the region.”
King Abdullah also mentioned the threat of Iran to CNBC, albeit vaguely.
“Nobody wants war; nobody wants conflict. But it remains to be seen whether countries in the Middle East can work toward a vision where prosperity is the name of the game,” he said.
According to the CNBC interview, King Abdullah thinks the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict might be an obstacle to a regional alliance.
“If [Israelis and Palestinians are] not talking to each other, that creates insecurities and instability in the region that will affect regional projects,” he said.