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Egypt hosts Saudi Arabia, UAE for joint military drill

Egypt is hosting ground, air and naval units from five Arab countries to conduct joint military drills together under the codename "Arab Shield", following a suggestion made by Washington.

Forces from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Jordan will take part in exercises from tomorrow until the 16 November, with Morocco and Lebanon participating as observers.

"The exercise comes in the framework of strengthening joint military cooperation between Egypt and Arab countries, to build the combat capabilities of the armed forces, and achieve common objectives," a spokesman for the Egyptian armed forces said.

The training comes less than a month after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the suggestion of a joint coalition, dubbed an "Arab NATO", which would unite Washington's Middle East partners against Iran. The original US proposal had reportedly included Qatar and Oman, but Doha was notably excluded from the training in the wake of the Gulf's continued economic and diplomatic boycott of the country.

Egypt has become heavily dependent on Saudi Arabia and the UAE for financial and political backing since the 2013 coup, and joined the Gulf blockade of Qatar in June 2017. It is also a member of the Saudi-Arabian led coalition in Yemen, with the ensuing war resulting in one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

Read: Saudi, Bahrain add Iran's Revolutionary Guards to terrorism lists

The latest alliance follows the derailment of efforts three years ago to create the joint Arab force agreed on at a 2015 Arab summit that was held in Egypt. Despite the proposal being initially agreed upon, a meeting to elaborate the details of the plan was cancelled and never rescheduled.

However the latest unification is also thought to be a move to unify Arab nations on certain regional issues, namely US concern over the growing influence of Iran and the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Yesterday, prominent Egyptian writer Abdullah El-Sinnawy warned in a column for the independent Al-Shorouk newspaper against such an alliance, arguing that its creation is part of a process to replace Israel with Iran as the Arabs' chief enemy, while stressing that differences between Arab states and Iran can be politically settled.

"Israel is not a friend and this is a fact despite all attempts to ignore it," he wrote. "The most dangerous thing here is to create an Arab NATO that includes countries bound by diplomatic relations with Israel like Egypt and Jordan and Gulf region nations like Saudi Arabia."

Last week, Oman controversially described Israel as a state in the Middle East after hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a surprise three day visit to the country. The visit was praised by Bahrain, which has previously condemned the Arab boycott of Israel.

Over the weekend, several Israeli officials also visited the UAE, with Israel's national anthem, Hatikvah, played for the first time in the Emirates after Israeli judo athlete Sagi Muki won the gold medal at the International Judo Federation's Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi.

Read: Hamas denounces 'Arab normalisation' with Israel

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