Washington has welcomed the muscular role Arab militaries are playing in Yemen and Syria, but their greater participation could also create a greater risk of a wider Sunni-Shia conflict across the Middle East.
President Barack Obama has been pressing Sunni Saudi Arabia and other Gulf state allies to do more to address the problems across the region. “Why is it that we can’t have Arabs fighting [against] the terrible human rights abuses that have been perpetrated, or fighting against what [Syrian President Bashar] Assad has done?” Obama asked in an interview Sunday with The New York Times.
Yet more aggressive moves by Arab militaries also have the potential to create unexpected consequences, according to military officials and analysts, as regional leaders plot strategies for a long game against Shiite Iran that may not necessarily track with U.S. objectives. And last week’s conclusion of a preliminary nuclear deal between Iran, the U.S. and other world powers only complicates the situation.
The perception of a rapprochement between two longtime archrivals, Washington and Tehran could prompt the Sunni Arab states to further increase their own operations across the regions to make up for an impression they’ll have less support from the U.S. against Iranian mischief.