Arab allies hold secret talks on joint action against militants

The alliance would co-ordinate pinpoint miltary operations

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Secret talks between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait could lead to the creation of a military pact to take on Islamic militants, with the possibility of a joint force to intervene around the Middle East.

The alliance would also serve as a show of strength to counterbalance their traditional rival, the Shia-dominated Iran.

Two countries are seen as potential theatres for the alliance to act, senior Egyptian military officials said: Libya, where Islamic militants have taken over several cities, and Yemen, where Shia rebels suspected of links to Iran have seized control of the capital.

The discussions reflect a new assertiveness among the Middle East’s Sunni powerhouses, whose governments – after three years of post-Arab Spring turmoil in the region – have increasingly come to see Sunni Islamic militants and Islamist political movements as a threat.

The Arab allies’ consideration of a joint force illustrates a desire to go beyond the coalition that the United States has formed to wage an air campaign against Isis in Iraq and Syria. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have participated in those strikes in Syria.


Officials said yesterday that the alliance under consideration was not intended to intervene in Iraq or Syria but to act separately to address other extremist hot spots.

Three Egyptian military officials discussed details of the talks and a fourth confirmed their comments. A Gulf official, who is aware of the discussions, also said that the governments were coordinating on how to deal with Libya, and the talks were “ongoing on wider cooperation on how to deal with extremists in the region”. They all spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks remain secret.

Talks on an alliance against extremists are well advanced, the Egyptian officials said. But the idea of forming a joint force is more distant, with a lack of consensus over the size of any force, funding and headquarters, and over whether to seek Arab League or UN political cover, one of the Egyptian officials said.

Past attempts at a pan-Arab military force have fallen apart. Even if no joint force is agreed on, the alliance would coordinate military action, aiming at pinpoint operations rather than longer missions, the officials said.