Saudi Arabia today said that 34 nations have agreed to form a new “Islamic military alliance” to fight terrorism with a joint operations centre in the kingdom, but the coalition does not include Shiite-majority Iran or Iraq, and it’s not clear how exactly it would function.
The announcement, published by the state-run Saudi Press Agency, said the Saudi-led alliance is being established because terrorism “should be fought by all means and collaboration should be made to eliminate it.”
However, the absence of Iran, Iraq and Syria, three countries battling the Islamic State group, raised questions about whether the alliance was intended to present a unified front against the extremists or Tehran, Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival.
Riyadh backs rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, a key Iranian ally, and has been leading an Arab coalition against Iran-supported Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen since March.
It is also part of the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
The Saudi statement said Islam forbids “corruption and destruction in the world” and that terrorism constitutes “a serious violation of human dignity and rights, especially the right to life and the right to security.”
Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman told a news conference that the new coalition will develop mechanisms for working with other countries and international bodies to support counterterrorism efforts. He said their efforts would not be limited to countering the Islamic State group.
“Currently, every Muslim country is fighting terrorism individually … So coordinating efforts is very important,” he said.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in Paris that members could request assistance from the coalition, which would address the requests “on a case-by-case basis.”
“There is no limit in terms of where the assistance would be provided, or to whom it would be provided,” he said. The new counterterrorism coalition includes nations with large and established armies such as Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt, as well as war-torn countries like Libya and Yemen.
African nations that have suffered militant attacks, such as Mali, Chad, Somalia and Nigeria, are also members. It was not immediately clear what role, if any, the United States would play in the coalition.
US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said he is looking forward to learning more about what Saudi Arabia has in mind. “In general, at least, it appears that it’s very much aligned with something that we’ve been urging for quite some time, which is greater involvement in the campaign to combat ISIL by Sunni Arab countries,” Carter told reporters during a visit to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, referring to the IS group by one of its acronyms.
He said he’d like to talk to the Saudis about the plan so he could learn more about it.