The 40-member organization was originally announced in 2015 but didn't hold an official gathering until earlier this week. While comprised mostly of majority-Muslim countries, it actually includes several sub-Saharan African members such as Gabon, Uganda, and Togo in which Muslims are a minority, thus making the group's formal designation as the "Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition" somewhat of a misnomer. Building off of the technical inaccuracies in its name, there's been widespread concern in some corners that the coalition's mission is hamstrung from the very beginning because of Saudi Arabia's refusal to invite Syria, Iraq, and Iran to join, the three Mideast countries which just successfully defeated Daesh.
Their lack of participation has cast a sectarian shadow over the alliance because Iran and Iraq are known for their Shiite majorities while Syria's Shiite-linked Alawite sect has socio-political prominence in the Arab Republic. Moreover, most of the group's members are on solid standing with the US, Pakistan and Turkey notwithstanding, which has contributed to some voices characterizing the coalition as a "Mideast NATO". Bearing in mind the recent reports that Israel has volunteered to share anti-Iranian intelligence with Saudi Arabia, which is the alliance's center of gravity, it's plausible that such information could be disseminated to the group's 39 other members via Riyadh and amount to a tacit degree of de-facto recognition of their historic rival. This further suggests that the military bloc might grow to have an implicitly anti-Iranian bias.
That said, the Saudi-led coalition is overseen by former Pakistani General Raheel Sharif, who earlier reports had claimed insisted that he would only take this leadership role if he was assured that the alliance wouldn't be used for sectarian ends and would only concentrate on eliminating the scourge of terrorism. Even with the best of intentions, however, it'll be extremely difficult to coordinate the military capabilities of 40 separate states, which is why critics have derided the bloc as a paper tiger that'll bear its teeth but never bite. On the other hand, if General Sharif does in fact succeed in this gargantuan endeavor, then what some have called the "Mideast NATO" could end up being a real geopolitical force to be reckoned with in the future.
Andrew Korybko is joined by Aisha Saeed, Pakistan-based independent analyst focusing on media and foreign policy studies, and Gul-Fraz Nawaz, UK-based political commentator.
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