Arabs aren’t fighting ISIL and here’s why

Special to

Arab states are mostly “laying low” in the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) for a few main reasons, analysts say.

While several states are part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, others are dealing with ISIL jihadists in their own backyards.

Emirati pilots at an air base in Jordan.
Emirati pilots at an air base in Jordan.

The U.S., UK, Germany and France have all increased their military roles in Syria and Iraq, but Saudi Arabia and the UAE are only running one mission against ISIL targets a month, a U.S. official told CNN. Bahrain and Jordan have both halted air strikes.

Fawaz Gerges, a Middle Eastern Studies professor at the London School of Economics, told CNN on Dec. 10 that the war in Yemen is a key reason Arabs aren’t fighting ISIL.

“The critical shift was the (Saudi-led) coalition in Yemen,” which includes the UAE, Egypt and Jordan, said Gerges. “You’re talking about a major 24/7 war. The Saudis and the Emiratis – the two countries with the most capacity in terms of air power – are flying fighter jets over the skies of Yemen, so that’s why you really have to prioritize the fight in Yemen over the fight against ISIL.”

ISIL’s presence in Middle East states other than Syria and Iraq is another reason.

“The Arab states, including Jordan – after the incident with the pilot (burned to death by ISIL) – are laying low,” Gerges said. “ISIL has major constituency supporters in almost all Arab countries, including Saudi, Kuwait, Lebanon and Jordan. So they want to really minimize the risks.”

Gerges added that Sunni Arab states are skittish about becoming heavily involved in the fight against ISIL in fear of strengthening Iraq and Syria, both key allies of Iran.

“There’s been the idea that ISIL is a bigger challenge for Iran and its allies than it is for the Arab states, even though this feeling is changing now,” Gerges said. “ISIL has threatened not only Iran and the (Shia-)dominated regimes in Iraq and Syria but even the Sunni-dominated Arab states.”

Ghadi Sary, a Middle East expert at Chatham House, said that Baghdad and Damascus would be hesitant to allow Arab states to join the fight against ISIL inside Iraq and Syria.

“I think it’s going to be very hard for that to happen – you’ve seen the Iraqi reaction to the presence of the Turkish army in northern Iraq,” Sary said, noting that Iraq ordered Turkey to withdraw its troops and tanks on Dec. 7 after they entered to guard training centers without permission.

“It is important for any intervening army to have the backing of the central government, or at least the army in the country, (including) the army of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who everyone will see as impossible to work with,” Sary said.

“For most of these countries, the over-involvement by the army in the internal affairs of the state has become acceptable, but when it comes to foreign intervention, it becomes problematic,” he said.

“We’re seeing the Egyptian army focus on the Sinai and its internal problems, we’re seeing the Syrian army doing that, and in Yemen it’s almost seen as the Saudi army cleaning up their own backyard – but not really intervention on the international level.”

You must be logged in to post a comment Login