Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: The Idea of Arab Military Intervention | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A fire burning at a fuel depot near the airport road in Tripoli, Libya, on July 29, 2014. (REUTERS/Hani Amara)

In recent history, political battles were limited. Most of the time, each epoch was distinguished by a single crisis. A crisis in a country would not extend to neighboring states for a number of reasons: the political situation was governed by regional powers, the borders of the region were taken very seriously, and above all this was the international recognition of the status quo. Therefore, the Lebanese civil war lasted for a decade-and-a-half without being exported. The same applies to Iraq, when Saddam Hussein’s regime was besieged after 1991 and then toppled in 2003. Iraq’s crisis lasted for 18 years without spreading beyond its borders to the rest of the region.

However, this changed following the so-called Arab Spring. The protests in Tunisia were echoed by more in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen, and armies of foreign fighters are now being transported across borders to at least four Arab countries. Civil wars are no longer contained within the borders of their countries. The terrorism in Libya has reached Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and western Tunisia. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is moving between Syria and Lebanon, and the fighting is happening on Turkey’s borders for the first time since the Second World War. Hezbollah are fighting in Syria, and the borders between Syria and Iraq are almost completely under the control of terrorist groups. Chaos is spreading across the region and it is no longer possible for any country to think it is safe from it.

Due to the simultaneous crises, and the difficulty of predicting how they will develop, the experience of Libya suggests a method that may be suitable for some hotspots, if not to impose peace then at least to contain the crisis. It’s clear that Egypt, Algeria and other countries have recently been active on the military and political fronts to end the chaos and support the legitimate government there. Although the situation hasn’t stabilized yet, we can mark this as the first time we can see signs of a regional agreement to use military power and political influence in Libya to end the chaos and bloodshed.

Regional military intervention can be successful if some conditions are met. The first of these is to attain some sort of legitimacy. There is an internationally recognized government and an elected parliament in Libya. However, several armed groups confront these legitimate but ramshackle institutions, and several foreign powers want to impose their tutelage in order to establish the regime of their choice. Another condition of this limited, regional intervention is the presence of military and security institutions of some kind, because their absence would make it impossible to engage in battles on the ground. This condition is hardly available in Libya. If Arab military intervention in Libya succeeds, it may be the only remedy to end the chaos.

The question is: can this experience be repeated in Yemen, Iraq and Syria?

It could in Yemen—if security collapses in the capital, Sana’a. The UN Security Council has been paying attention to Yemen, and is backing a political solution, the implementation of which requires military aid to protect the Yemeni army and support it with intelligence and equipment. Saudi Arabia and Jordan worked together in Yemen in the 1960s, until rebellious factions and other groups who were supported by foreign parties were forced to accept a compromise that finally ended Yemen’s civil war.

Will we witness Saudi–Jordanian military cooperation in Yemen once more? Maybe not, as there is still a chance to reach a political solution and broker compromises that ensure every faction will be able to participate in politics. The idea of military support, and not necessarily direct intervention on the ground, may be one of the means to control the chaos spreading in every direction, and which will likely continue for the next 10 or 20 years.