ISIS airstrikes: Who are the US’s Arab allies?

Five Arab countries are understood to be participating in the U.S.-led air campaign against ISIS strongholds in Syria. In what amounts to the first collective military action by regional powers since the 1991 Gulf War, the group includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Bahrain and Jordan.

"We participated because our interests require it… and we hope, God willing, that this work is the beginning of seriously addressing terrorism at the international level," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal was quoted as saying by the country's official news agency SPA.


Jet fighters of the Saudi Royal air force.
Fayez Nureldine | AFP | Getty Images
Jet fighters of the Saudi Royal air force.

He added that the war on terrorism "may take years", and efforts should not cease until it had "eliminat(ed) all terrorist organizations wherever they are".

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With a military spend of $67 billion, Saudi Arabia was the world's fourth-largest military spender in the world in 2013, according figures by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released earlier this year. As a result, it is home to the most potent air force in the Arab World, with over 300 combat aircraft.

Meanwhile, the UAE's official WAM news agency confirmed the state's involvement in the campaign in a brief 40-word report citing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It did not mention Syria specifically, nor did it provide further details on the scope of the involvement. "The operation took place in coordination with the forces participating in international efforts against ISIS," it read.

Despite a strained relationship with its oil-rich Gulf neighbors over foreign policy, Qatar was also part of the coalition, according to U.S. officials. Neither the Qatar News Agency (QNA) nor local media have confirmed this, however.

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The island nation of Bahrain also took part, but there we no details beyond those released by the U.S. Pentagon. The two remaining members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Kuwait and Oman, have yet to be linked with any sorties. Egypt, a close ally of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, has voiced its support, but not yet revealed to what extent it is involved.

On Wednesday, meanwhile, Turkish officials told Reuters that neither its airspace nor the U.S. airbase in the south of the country have been used in air strikes against ISIS. The administration has made it clear it was still evaluating whether Turkey, a NATO member, would play a military role.

Part of the cautious political calculus may be due to the region's other heavyweight: Iran. President Hasan Rouhani overtly criticized the bombings on Tuesday, saying on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly: "These bombings do not have any legal standing so we can interpret them as an attack."

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Firas Abi Ali, head of Middle East analysis at IHS Country Risk, noted another possible consequence of airstrikes.

"Cutting off the Islamic State's access to oil funds will be a critical component of a successful strategy aimed at weakening the group," he wrote in a research note, but added: "There is no evidence yet that the strikes have aimed at disrupting the flow of oil from Islamic State-controlled territory into neighboring countries' markets".