Last week, King Abdullah II of Jordan said he would support the creation of a military alliance similar to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The king pointed to the current challenges Middle Eastern countries are facing to emphasize the need for a joint effort.
Calls for an Alliance Like NATO in Middle East?
In addition to outlining how Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is impacting the region, King Abdullah discussed Iran’s destabilizing behavior and the Israel-Palestine crisis to outline the need for a unified front. His remarks follow Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s announcement that Israel has joined a U.S.-led joint air defense network dubbed the Middle East Air Defense Alliance (MEAD).
In an interview with CNBC, the Jordanian monarch said he would be “one of the first people who would endorse a Middle East version” of the largest intergovernmental military alliance that exists today. The king insisted that a period of cooperation must replace the “near-constant strife” that has plagued the region for many years.
Additionally, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has endangered food supplies in the region. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat and corn. Since Russia has imposed blockades on the country’s ports, the movement of these resources has been stagnant. Earlier this month, Jordan unveiled a ten-year-long development strategy aimed at reviving the country’s struggling economy. Regional conflict has certainly impacted Jordan’s slow economic growth, making a cooperative truce even more vital to the king.
Referencing the Israel-Palestinian conflict, King Abdullah indicated only time will tell if countries in the region could “work toward a vision where prosperity is the name of the game.”
Iran’s Destabilizing Behavior
The king then suggested that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s role in the region had become problematic. Although Iran’s regime was not called out directly in his remarks, Abdullah referenced the role Shiite militias continue to play in the Middle East. He expressed that “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.”
Iran’s proxy warfare has escalated in recent years. Across the region, Iranian-backed groups function to support the regime, destabilizing the countries they operate in. Iran is also in the process of rapidly expanding its ballistic missile arsenal, posing a critical threat to its nearby adversaries.
Due to Iran’s malign behavior in recent years, U.S. allies in the Middle East have rekindled cooperative efforts. In 2020, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, and Egypt signed the Al-Ula Declaration. This joint agreement ended a rift that divided the Gulf states for nearly three years. In part, the solidarity pact aims to counter an increasingly dangerous Iran. Additionally, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan formalized normalization ties with Israel through the Trump-brokered Abraham Accords the same year. The MEAD joint air-defense network described by Israel’s Defense Minister would likely piggyback off the relationships strengthened by the Al-Ula Declaration and the Abraham Accords.
While the formation of a “Middle East NATO” may not be as imminent as desired by King Abdullah, alliances in the region are shifting. Iran has become increasingly isolated from its neighbors as Israel has been more warmly received.
Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.