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Saturday, 24 October 2020

Eastern front revisited

Moves to establish a tripartite mechanism of cooperation among Egypt, Jordan and Iraq could provide an important counterbalance to US-Israeli regional hegemony

Hussein Haridy , Tuesday 1 Sep 2020
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On Tuesday, 25 August, the Jordanian capital, Amman, hosted the third summit of the tripartite mechanism of cooperation among Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. The first summit had taken place in Cairo in March of last year, and the second took place in New York City during the ordinary session of the UN General Assembly in September 2019.

In the two previous summits, Iraq was represented by the former Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdel-Mahdi. This time, Iraq was represented by the new Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadmi.

A few days earlier, Al-Kadmi was the guest of US President Donald Trump in what was considered a successful visit that took place in the context of the “strategic dialogue” between Iraq and the United States.

In an interview with The Washington Post, the Iraqi prime minister proposed the creation of a “new Mashreq” or a “new East” in the Levant that would include Egypt. He explained that the idea is to cooperate to stabilise the region, and to find political solutions to the conflicts that are still raging in the Middle East. In addition, the new bloc of nations would work together to achieve economic prosperity for the people of the region.

Trilateral cooperation among Egypt, Jordan and Iraq is not new. Back in 1989, the three countries plus Yemen had set up what was called the “Arab Cooperation Council”, and saw the signing of various agreements that had covered economic, commercial, social and cultural aspects of the relationships among the member countries. However, the experiment was short-lived. Less than a year after its establishment, Iraq invaded Kuwait on 2 August 1990, and that was the end of the newly-established council. 

Before the signing of the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel on 24 October 1994, Iraq, Jordan and Syria had formed what was called the “Eastern Front”. It was a group of countries that had been in a state of war with Israel, and provided for a certain strategic equilibrium in the Middle East. It worked as a relative deterrent against Israeli expansionism in the Middle East, even after Egypt had signed the first peace treaty between an Arab state and Israel, on 26 March 1979. The front provided security and stability for the three countries, Jordan, Syria and Iraq. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait dealt it a death sentence.

Of course, the strategic context in the Middle East has dramatically changed, and neither Iraq nor Syria are in situation that would allow them to breathe new life into an old concept. Times have changed. However, the idea of a “new East” has its merits given the insecurity and instability reigning in the Middle East, a deplorable situation that has gone far too long, and opened the door wide to regional intervention in the Levant, and in Iraq in particular after the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003, combined with the disastrous impact of the “Arab Spring”.

If the three countries that have launched the tripartite mechanism of cooperation would work seriously for the creation of such a bloc, that would be a welcome move on their part. As explained by the Iraqi prime minister, such a bloc would work for peace, security and stability in the Middle East and would provide a counterweight to regional intervention in the Levant and in Iraq. The bloc would be defensive in nature with no war designs against any country in the region.

The idea of such a bloc is geared to the future rather than the past. Actually, we bear witness to the slow and gradual emergence of a different Middle East — a region that would live under a Pax Americana, where Israel would be the lead partner of the United States, after the latter withdraws from the Middle East, a strategy initiated by the present US administration, and would continue, albeit in a much slower pace, in case Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden becomes the 46th US president in November.

The bloc, once it becomes a reality, would defend the national interests of its founding members in the Middle East of tomorrow, that could see very close cooperation among the Gulf countries and Israel, once the former follow in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates in normalising relations with the Hebrew state. The US strategy of forming an alliance between Israel and the “Sunni” Arab states — namely, the Gulf countries, Egypt and Jordan — is difficult to materialise in the way both the United States and Israel want. The tripartite bloc would be an insurance policy for the member countries against Israeli hegemony in the region in the medium and long term.

The idea caused the Iraqi prime minister some trouble back home, especially among pro-Iranian political forces and armed militias. Al-Kadmi assured them his ideas are not meant to target Iran, stressing that Iraq wants to have good relations with all neighbouring countries without exception.

The emerging Middle East will be full of cross currents and odd alliances that would impinge on the security and stability of major Arab powers in case they decline to become full-time partners in the Pax Americana in the region. 

If the tripartite bloc is formed, it would provide a bulwark against a nation or a group of nations from within the Middle East and the Gulf — under American leadership — that would attempt to reorder the region according to their own visions and national interests.


*The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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