Arab armies: the wrong force to combat terrorism

Arab armies: the wrong force to combat terrorism
2 min read
17 Apr, 2015
Comment: The lumbering militaries of the Arab world are not suited to fighting irregular wars with nebulous enemies. We need something else, says Adel Soliman.
Lumbering conventional forces are not trained to fight irregular groups [AFP]

The main topic of discussion in last month’s Arab League summit in Sharm al-Sheikh was terrorism and what the league should do in response.

The summit's final statement went into great detail about the dangers threatening modern nation states, with the threat of terrorism representing the largest challenge, and requiring a swift and decisive Arab response.

It recommended members should take "the necessary steps to coordinate efforts and plans to create a joint Arab force, to respond to the challenges that lay before us and to protect Arab national security". 

However, the summit did not clearly define the enemy or the force needed to face it.

Do members even have the right military forces to tackle "terrorists"? Let us consider the established doctrines of armies across the Arab world.

For decades Arab armies have been trained to counter the most advanced force in the region - Israel, against which Arab states have fought multiple wars. The Israelis have an advanced military force built in strategic cooperation with the US and under a policy of ensuring superiority over all Arab armies.

     We cannot just expect things to change overnight.

The organisational structure and military beliefs of Arab armies have been based on countering that dominance, and defending against other conventional threats.

Arab armies are organised, armed and trained to fight traditional battles against regular armies.

So a crisis would emerge if we suddenly attempted to transform these large, professional military establishments into forces capable of fighting irregular wars against poorly defined enemies.

There is no doubt that terrorism poses a grave threat to our countries and citizens. However fighting against this threat cannot be conducted through the use of regular armies.

Although it may seem simple enough to retrain Arab forces to counter the new threat, they are not products that can simply be bought and swapped out when needed.

We cannot just expect things to change overnight.

We must realise that these forces that protect countries against terrorism are completely different from those that protect countries against foreign enemies - the two cannot be interchangeable.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation of the original Arabic.