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North Thunder

alaa-alghambdi|By Alaa Alghamdi| Military force is the most extreme example of use of power. There are many alternatives. Soft uses of power, such as appeals, firmer uses that injure; and between these two there is a large space for diplomacy, media discussions, and more. Regardless of whichever tactic used, credibility comes from the ability to start a real confrontation. Simply the ability to resort to military tactics can be enough to dissuade, to prevent explosive situations and all-out war. Building this kind of power takes many forms, including access to armaments and training troops to the highest degree of skill. This is what ultimately balances and deters in power struggles.

The recent military manoeuvres ‘North Thunder’ took place in Hafr Al-Batin, Saudi Arabia. This was an example of building credibility for escalating threats in the region. These are twofold; Iran, Riyadh’s regional rival, and also the disturbing rise of terrorism, which has grown in four decades,starting from the intellectual-Qaeda ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, until we finally have arrived at the brutal forms of Daesh and Al-Qaeda. It is astonishing that, notwithstanding the widespread fear about the threat of terrorism carried out by Islamic extremists, no one has noticed that more than 95 per cent of its victims are Muslims.

North Thunder is taking place against a backdrop of many complex issues, including the disintegration in the region that followed the Arab Spring and the ensuing civil wars leading to the weakness of the states in the region; and the Iranian attacks which have increased in the wake of Iran’s western nuclear deal. North Thunder sends an important message at this stage, both in terms of location, on the western side of the Gulf, and the gate of the liberation of Kuwait; and in terms of ability; with twenty states, 350,000 soldiers, 20,000 tanks, 2450 aircraft, and 460 combat helicopters, for a period of twenty days. This constitutes one of the largest military exercises in the world, and certainly the largest in the Middle East. The manoeuvre here is not a show of force, but force is shown all the same, including countries known in modern and contemporary history to take substantive decisions concerning war and peace.

North Thunder did not suddenly appear, but is the natural product of more than a decade and a half of preparations and joint exercises between countries in the region. It dates back to the first manoeuvres Peninsula Shield, which included the members of the Cooperation Council for the Arab Gulf States. This then became the task force to liberate Kuwait and to prevent Iran from control of Bahrain. It went on to take part in the restoration of legitimacy in Yemen. The next sets of manoeuvres were the joint operations between Saudi Arabia and Egypt in 2000 under the name Tabuk. These involved the participation of units of the ground forces and took place on the territory of the two countries. These exercises have also included other Arab and Islamic countries under the same name. There has also been the Egyptian-Saudi naval exercise under the name Morjan, carried out by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and in cooperation with other countries at other times.

Joint exercises cannot happen without cooperation. They allow for the acquisition of joint expertise in intelligence, understanding and cooperation in the formation of a common experience among the leaders in the field, as well as political leaders.

The nature of North Thunder is based on the formations of armed forces that have been trained to deal with a particular theatre of operations; an attack on a regional party from east to west. The manoeuvre allows equality in the region, an economic and demographic entente with no bias against those who cannot afford conventional war beyond its borders. Such a war is no longer likely, but it opens the door to other types of wars, perhaps from the Iranian threat or a terrorist attack.

Through North Thunder the question of whether Iran can stage military intervention in the Gulf states is answered, at least by any of the countries participating in the manoeuvres. However, there still remains a real risk of breakthrough elements of the Revolutionary Guards or militias causing problems. We are seeing revolutions and counter-revolutions happening all the time.

When facing such dangers, there needs to be other forms of manoeuvres like North Thunder, to deter Iran from interfering in the affairs of Arab countries and to show strength to the terrorists plaguing the region.

What concerns us here is that the North Thunder is the embodiment of the system strategy, taking the form of a classic move in this manoeuvre – the show of strength. However, it opens the door to non-classical forms as a response in line with the new types of hazards we are facing.

There needs to be a political consensus. Frankly, the effectiveness of different strategies cannot achieve the maximum returns while there is a rift in relations between Egypt on one hand, and all of Turkey and Qatar on the other. Without going into the details of many wounds, the goal is to win and triumph in the face of deadly threats.

Alliances are more effective when they do not upset some of the countries involved, the opposition party or parties in the coalition. It is time to end all quarrels and the return of normal relations between all sides, because what is happening in the region is more important and dangerous.