Armed forces and observers from eight Arab countries are converging on Egypt for exercises starting on Saturday, the Egyptian military said, a move that could evolve into a regional pact to counter Iran’s influence.
President Donald Trump’s administration is quietly pushing for Gulf Arab countries, together with Egypt and Jordan, to put together what some White House officials call an “Arab NATO” of Sunni Muslim allies to stand against Shi’ite power Iran.
A Saudi-led coalition of Arab states is intervening in Yemen’s war, staging air strikes against Iran-aligned Houthi forces which control much of the country’s north, including Sanaa.
In a statement on his Facebook page, the Egyptian military spokesman said air, ground, naval and special forces from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Jordan are arriving in Egypt for the exercises called “The Shield of the Arabs 1”, due to be held from November 3 to 16.
Observers from Lebanon and Morocco will attend the manoeuvres, spokesman, Colonel Tamer al-Refai said.
He said the exercises were part of Egypt’s efforts to enhance military co-operation with other Arab countries but declined to speculate on whether they could evolve into a military alliance.
Qatar, in a row with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, and Oman are not participating in the exercises.
The White House confirmed in July it was working on an alliance with regional partners for several months.
A US source said Saudi officials raised the security pact before Trump visited the kingdom last year when he announced a massive arms deal, but the alliance proposal did not get off the ground.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for a cessation of hostilities in Yemen and said UN-led negotiations to end the civil war should begin next month.