10 Middle East Arms Race Facts - WMNews Ep. 26



10 Middle East Arms Race Facts - WMNews Ep. 26

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Angela Fafard

With weapon sales in the Middle East due to exceed $18 billion in 2015, Gulf nations are arming themselves in preparation for proxy wars and sectarian conflicts within the region. Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series where we break down news stories that might be on your radar. In this installment, we’re counting down 10 crucial facts you should know about the Middle East arms race.
Script written by Angela Fafard

10 Middle East Arms Race Facts - WMNews Ep. 26

#10: Where Did It Start?
The 2003 Invasion of Iraq

On March 20th, 2003, the United States, as well as troops from the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland, invaded Iraq. In announcing the imminent invasion, then-President George W. Bush explained the reasoning behind the action: “to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.” The invasion eventually became known as the Iraq war, as it lasted for nearly a decade and cost the American government an estimated $1.7 trillion. The rationale for the war faced severe criticism as it primarily focused on the discovery and removal of weapons of mass destruction supposedly in Iraq’s possession, despite the lack of concrete intelligence.

#9: How Successful Was the War?
The Withdrawal of Troops

The Iraq war led to the collapse of President Saddam Hussein’s government, his death and the establishment of democratic elections. However, it also spurred renewed efforts in the region by the extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq, as well as a high number of Iraqi casualties. Furthermore, the war led to widespread displacement, as about 2 million Iraqis left the country, of which 84,000 sought refuge in the United States. Despite withdrawing the remaining American troops from Iraq in December 2011, the United States returned during the summer of 2014. By providing aerial support, the United States hoped to stop the advancing threat of ISIS soldiers. Despite losing Tikrit, a key city for Iraqi forces, ISIS still controlled large portions of the country as of early May 2015. Furthermore, it is widely believed that the Iraq War helped breed widespread resentment of the U.S. in the region and a strong jihadist movement.

#8: How Did Iran React?
The Power Play

Iraq is currently home to the biggest Iranian operation in the Middle East, with Iranian Revolutionary Guard members helping to train Shia militias in the country and push back ISIS forces in order to support the majority Shia government. Since the invasion of Iraq, Iran has continued to spread its regional supremacy among various gulf nations such as Iraq, but also Syria, Palestine and Lebanon. Iran is also a major supporter and long time ally of the al-Assad dictatorship in Syria. They’ve supplied funds, weapons and Iranian Revolutionary Guards in order to curb the popular uprising against the al-Assad regime. These actions have pitted Iran against Saudi Arabia and other gulf states that would like to avert Iran’s spread of power and believe it doesn’t belong in their affairs.

#7: What Did This Lead To?
The Iran Nuclear Program Agreement

The Iran nuclear deal framework was reached in Lausanne, Switzerland in late March and early April 2015 following high-powered negotiations. Attended by the foreign ministers of the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, France, China, the European Union and Iran, these talks centered on Iran’s controversial nuclear activities. At the end of the discussions, an announcement stated all participating nations had reached an agreement regarding a framework and that all final decisions have to be made by June 30th, 2015. The outlined deal touched on various hot button issues, such as the reduction of Iran’s nuclear facilities and production, the removal of economic sanctions against Iran, and the enhanced and unprecedented investigations of Iran’s nuclear facilities – all while Iran denies intentions that it’s attempting to build a nuclear weapon.

#6: Who Disagrees with the Framework?
The Dissent

While an agreement had been reached in regards to the Iran nuclear framework deal by early May 2015, there remained widespread dissent within signatory nations about the final details and the timeline. For example, the United States senate continued reviewing the framework and some conservative Republicans demanded more stringent requirements. As of early May 2015, a bill was being reviewed and would require the president of the United States to submit a final agreement before Congress, which would be given 52 days to review before sanctions would be removed from Iran. Furthermore, there are mixed opinions in Moscow as to whether or not Russia should back the agreement. In the past, Russian and American interests in the Middle East contradicted each other, but these negotiations could change that. Although Russia’s official line is that Iran’s nuclear ambitions need to end, there are those who don’t believe in aiding the reconciliation between Iran and the United States.

#5: How Did Neighboring Countries React?
The Arms Race

The Gulf Cooperation Council encompasses the leaders of six Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, all of whom are demanding that the United States provide them with state of the art weaponry and defense agreements in exchange for their backing of the Iran nuclear agreement. Furthermore, the Middle East is diving into an arms race as sales of weapons are due to exceed $18 billion in 2015, with the West providing the majority of the weapons. In April 2015, Russia decided to deliver controversial S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. In addition, in early May 2015, France agreed to sell 24 Dassault Aviation fighter jets, MBDA missiles and pilot training to Qatar for $7 billion. Saudi Arabia has also agreed to fund $3 billion worth of French weapons for the Lebanese military in order to help combat trespassing militants from neighboring Syria. In lieu of an American assurance in regards to Iran, neighboring nations are collectively upgrading and purchasing weapons from the West, including the United States, France, the UK and Canada.

#4: How Did Neighboring Countries React, Part II?
The Atomic Program

All major Sunni nations in the Gulf have announced plans to build nuclear reactors, with Egypt making the declaration in early 2015, and the country hiring Russia to build a reactor in Alexandria. These plans have been triggered by the ever-increasing perceived threat of the nuclear capabilities of neighboring Shia-dominated Iran. In fact, in 2004 King Abdullah II of Jordan coined the term ‘Shia Crescent’, to describe Middle Eastern regions with strong Shia populations stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf. That being said, not all Middle Eastern countries will be able to build nuclear plants, as these can cost upwards of $5 billion and several economies in the region are crippled by poverty. This nuclear trend is in direct contrast to global activities, as many countries have deliberately forsworn nuclear energy; especially after the Japanese nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011.

#3: Is There a Current Gulf State Crisis?
The Yemeni Crisis

The Middle East has broken into a loosely titled sectarian war as the Yemeni Crisis continues to pit the Middle Eastern powers of Iran and Saudi Arabia against each other. The Yemeni Crisis began with the 2011 revolution, which saw Yemen’s President, Ali Abdullah Saleh , leave office, and Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi , his former Vice President take up as acting and then elected president. Subsequently, Houthi militants took over the capital of Sana’a and on February 6th, 2015 declared themselves in control of the government and dissolved parliament. The coup d’état sparked outrage and the majority of Gulf States, the United Nations and the United States refused to recognize the constitutional declaration. On March 25th, 2015, Saudi Arabia and a few other nations began targeted airstrikes against the Houthi rebels, titled ‘Operation Decisive Storm.’

#2: Who Is Involved in the Yemen War?
The Two Sides

The two Middle Eastern powers of Iran and Saudi Arabia are currently facing off in Yemen, as both countries back different military groups in the state. Iran historically backed the prominent southern Yemen leader Ali Salim al-Beidh , yet now is only funding the Houthi rebels. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and a group of Sunni nations have been backing the internationally recognized government of Yemen and successfully passed the UN resolution 2216, which granted it permission to militarily intervene in the region. This is now being tested, as the United Nations and the United States have called for a “humanitarian pause,” as the impoverished citizens of Yemen continue to be caught in the crossfire.

#1: How Will This End?
The Future

In early May 2015, the majority Sunni Gulf nations and French President, Francois Hollande, gathered for the Gulf Cooperation Council summit to discuss the growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen and growing jihadist threats. This follows the signing of a joint declaration by France and Saudi Arabia, which stressed the importance of a strong and verifiable nuclear agreement with Iran by June 30th, 2015 as well as a call for Houthi rebels to immediately withdraw from Yemen. Despite Saudi Arabia ending ‘Operation Decisive Storm’ and beginning ‘Operation Restoring Hope’ in April 2015, there has been continued shelling in Yemen border towns as of early May 2015. As the Middle East plunges into proxy wars and prepares to spend $18 billion in 2015, the world waits as the long-term ramifications of such a strategy are finally revealed.