- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 29, 2015

Seeking to combat threats from Iran and the Shiite rebels it is supporting, Arab leaders meeting in the resort city of Sharm El-Sheihk, Egypt, agreed in principle Sunday to forge a military alliance that will create a joint fighting force.

The decision by the  Arab League signals a shift in strategy with the creation of a NATO-like military alliance that would empower Sunni countries like Eqypt and Saudi Arabia to more aggressively resist Iran, which is backing the Houthi rebels that have plunged Yemen into civil war.

The joint fighting force would consist of about 40,000 elite troops from several Sunni Arab nations, and would be backed by fighter jets and warships, officials said.

The leaders signaled their determination to bring stability to a region aflame, declaring that Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen will continue until the Shiite rebels “withdraw and surrender their weapons.”

Yemen was on the brink of the abyss, requiring effective Arab and international moves after all means of reaching a peaceful resolution have been exhausted to end the Houthi coup and restore legitimacy,” Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said.

The Houthis began their offensive in September, seizing the capital, Sanaa, and later holding embattled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi under house arrest. The rebels ultimately took over government in Yemen and ultimately forced Hadi to flee the country in recent days.

Speaking at the summit Saturday, Hadi directly accused Iran of being behind the Houthi offensive, raising the specter of a regional conflict. Iran and the Houthis deny that Tehran arms the rebel movement, though the Islamic Republic has provided humanitarian and other aid.

Speaking after Elaraby, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said leaders also agreed in principle to creating a joint Arab military force. He said a high-level panel will work under the supervision of Arab chiefs of staff to work out the structure and mechanism of the force.

It is unlikely that all 22-member nations of the often-fractious Arab League will join the proposed force. Creation of such a force has been a longtime goal that has eluded Arab nations in the 65 years since they signed a rarely used joint defense agreement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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