The armed forces of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and four other Arab states began a joint training exercise in Egypt this weekend in the first major drills of what may become a regional military alliance to counter Iran.
Alongside the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and Kuwait are taking part in the 16-day “The Shield of the Arabs 1” drills that involve land, sea, air-defence and special forces' manoeuvres, UAE’s state-run news agency Wam reported.
Lebanon and Morocco will attend as observers, Egyptian military spokesman Col Tamer Al Refai said.
The forces from the six nations are based at the Mohamed Naguib Military Base near the coastal city Hamam. The base, opened last year, is the country’s largest and has 72 training facilities, conference spaces and capacity to house a large force.
In October, Egypt and Saudi Arabia conducted a joint military drill dubbed ‘Tabuk 4′ in southern Egypt.
While he said the exercises were part of Egypt’s efforts to enhance military co-operation with other Arab countries, he declined to speculate on whether they could evolve into a formalised military alliance.
US President Donald Trump’s administration has been lobbying for a force of Arab nations to counter Iran and take a more active role in the Middle East to back international troops that is being dubbed an “Arab Nato”. The idea comes after an agreement in 2015 at the Arab League summit in Cairo to create a joint Arab force that has yet to take shape. The force would have been led by Egypt and headquartered in Saudi Arabia.
The UAE is a major partner in the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen to reinstate the internationally recognised government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi and recover areas overrun by Iran-backed rebel Houthi movement. Egypt, another member of the coalition, provides reconnaissance assistance and has warships off the Red Sea coastline to protect shipping lanes as Houthi’s have fired anti-ship missiles at commercial vessels on numerous occasions and explosive laden speedboats regularly harass tankers.
While there has been some discussion about including Qatar in the “Arab Nato” force, they are not taking part in the ongoing drills in Egypt. Cairo is a member of the quartet of nations, which includes others taking part, that enacted an embargo on the peninsular kingdom over its regional foreign policy and support for hard-line groups.
The White House confirmed in July it had been working on the concept of an alliance with its regional partners for several months.
A US source said that Saudi officials had raised the idea of a 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.