With serious discussions ongoing about the concept of a Middle Eastern NATO, many people are asking why now. It may be best to ask why not 40-years ago.
The GCC was established in 1981; immediately after an Iranian attempt to stage a coup in Bahrain and following similar Iranian efforts to mobilize militant groups in a number of Gulf and Arab states. 1981 was a moment of existential concerns about regional security; Hezbollah would soon be staging its first attacks in Lebanon and soon after there would be a series of Iran-backed terrorist attacks against strategic targets in Kuwait.
We find ourselves in a very similar situation today, only Iran now wields de facto control over four Arab states and is greedily looking for where it can expand next. For several years Iran’s Revolutionary Guard unsuccessfully sponsored a campaign of terrorism in Bahrain.
The Arab world has never been in greater need of an entity devoted to collective defense. Indeed, the ethos of the GCC was that all members would be committed to each other’s defense, but commitments to joint military capabilities have lagged, and in the past we have failed to activate a viable framework at the level of the entire Arab world.
The ethos of NATO is about making attacks on any of its member states unthinkable.
When a single entity wields well over 20% of global GDP and over 600 million citizens, what country would be foolish enough to invade. The reason Russia can invade Ukraine but not Romania is a simple calculation of NATO membership.
President Sisi’s visit to Bahrain in recent days was an important step towards bringing major regional powers into greater alignment for regional unity. Egypt as by far the most populous Arab state, with its mighty economic powerhouse, its large military and its matchless human capital would rightly be a cornerstone of any such alliance.
Meanwhile Bahrain with its strategic location in the Gulf, as the host of the US 5th fleet and with its existing key role in the regional coalition against terrorism is also a significant regional player.
When the Arab world stands together, particularly in conjunction with our Western and global allies, we dwarf the dysfunctional capabilities of the Islamic Republic.
Iran is not something we need to fear when we are united. It only managed to gain a foothold in Syria because the Arab world was divided, distracted and absent. We made a similar mistake in Iraq after 2003.
Bahrain has long been a leading voice for greater GCC, Arab and regional unity. We have never had a better opportunity and there has never been greater need to make this a reality.