Bahrain says 'Arab NATO' to be formed by next year

The alliance aims to include six Gulf countries and Egypt, though Saudi-led blockade on Qatar remains an obstacle.

    Bahrain's crown prince has maintained close ties with Riyadh as pressure mounts over Khashoggi's murder [Bandar Algaloud/Reuters]
    Bahrain's crown prince has maintained close ties with Riyadh as pressure mounts over Khashoggi's murder [Bandar Algaloud/Reuters]

    Bahrain's Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa has said a planned Gulf security alliance, expected to include Egypt, will be formed by next year.

    At a security summit in capital Manama on Saturday, Khalifa said the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), an initiative pushed by US President Donald Trump to confront Iran, will help the Gulf remain "a pillar of stability".

    "It (MESA) is an alliance for security and prosperity for the region and will be open to those who accept its principles," he said, adding that the alliance would also cooperate on economic issues.

    Relations between Saudi Arabia, which is the lynchpin of the US-backed regional bloc, and its Western allies are strained following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

    Doubts over MESA have also been raised over a protracted dispute between Qatar and four Arab states who launched a blockade against Doha in 2017.

    Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut off travel and trade ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of backing Iran and supporting "terrorism".

    Qatar denies the charges and says the boycott impinges on its sovereignty.

    'Arab NATO'

    White House officials have called the MESA alliance an "Arab NATO".

    "MESA will serve as a bulwark against Iranian aggression, terrorism, extremism, and will bring stability to the Middle East," a spokesperson for the White House's National Security Council had said in July.

    The Trump administration has pursued policies meant to isolate Iran, including the US withdrawal from the landmark deal with Iran to limit Tehran's nuclear programme while lifting sanctions.

    The move escalated tensions between the US and Iran, but was lauded by Saudi Arabia.

    The Bahraini foreign minister also lauded Oman's Sultan Qaboos for his efforts to facilitate dialogue between Israel and Palestine.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an unannounced visit to Oman on Thursday.

    Oman's foreign minister, Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, told the forum that Muscat was offering ideas to help Israel and the Palestinians to come together but was not acting as mediator.

    Iran's 'vision of darkness'

    Saudi Arabia and Bahrain said on Saturday that Gulf states are playing a critical role in maintaining stability in the Middle East by combating Iran's "vision of darkness" even as Riyadh faces its worst political crisis in decades.

    "We are now dealing with two visions in the Middle East. One is a [Saudi] vision of light ... One is [an Iranian] vision of darkness which seeks to spread sectarianism throughout the region," Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in Manama.

    "History tells us that light always wins out against the dark ... The question is how do we defeat them," he said.

    The US defence secretary, James Mattis, said the killing of Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Saudi policy, undermined regional stability.

    "Failure of any one nation to adhere to international norms and the rule of law undermines regional stability at a time when it is needed most," Mattis said. 

    Trump has said he wants to get to the bottom of the Khashoggi case, while also highlighting Riyadh's role as an ally against Iran, as well as a major buyer of US arms.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies