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24.03.2015 Author: Maxim Egorov

Middle East on the Verge of Breaking the Strategic Balance

P453534534The nearing deadline to conclude negotiations between Iran and the US on Iran’s nuclear at the end of March this year has exposed the fact that the Middle East has come to a point beyond which the changes growing over the last ten to fifteen years will transform it beyond recognition.

And, apparently, the emerging configuration of regional and inter-regional alliances will be qualitatively different from anything we’ve seen not only in 2001, but over the past 100 years, beginning with the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916 and the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. This means, if not the actual demolition, the profound erosion of hitherto existing borders between the countries of the region drawn by Britain and France.

It is already clear that a number of countries have few prospects to remain in their current form.

First of all, we are talking about Iraq, which has never been so close to the collapse into three entities – Shiite, Kurdish, and Sunni. The Shiite entity obviously would be – and already is – under the direct influence of Iran. The Kurdish one, with the assistance of Western globalists, acting with US weapons – will evolve in the direction of an independent state, which will incorporate not only the territory of today’s Iraq, but also Turkey and Syria. The Sunni one will either remain under the rule of Islamic radicals manifested in ISIL, or as is likely to happen after the expected defeat of the jihadists, (the US seems to have decided to bury the monster it created), will be forced to submit to the will of its Shiite neighbor intentional to firmly maintain control over the entire “Shiite Arch” from Tehran to Beirut. The interaction of the de facto US Air Force with Shiite militias in Anbar province in the fight against ISIL testifies to the fact that the US would not interfere with this.

As for Syria, the weakened Assad regime will still survive in the coming years. The statements by John Kerry on March 15 on willingness to enter into negotiations with Bashar Assad only confirm this thesis. However, Damascus is unlikely to be able to restore its sovereignty over the entire territory of former Syria. The northern and northeastern Kurdish areas will seek broad autonomy for themselves, or rather – join the strengthening Iraqi Kurdistan.

A united Yemen was also equally endangered. Houthis, having seized Sana, despite their anti-American and quasi-socialist rhetoric, are unlikely to subjugate the entire country, especially the southern Sunni areas into which Arabian monarchs will pump money and weapons. This, ultimately, risks provoking a split of the country, which had previously been subject to numerous conflicts due to the heterogeneity of the population, its extreme poverty, and the almost indiscriminate arming of adult Yemenis. Much depends on the position of Riyadh, which is short-sightedly planning to drag the Yemen dialog onto its territory and put it under the auspices of the GCC, which under present conditions is unrealistic.

 The future of Egypt and Sudan, the two largest countries in the Middle East, also looks very foggy. Destabilized by external forces, they cannot withstand the pressure of proliferating internal and external problems. However, the collapse or further weakening of the above states, and the waiting list of other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, will not be the only consequence of the processes occurring in the region to implode the old world order. It is obvious that any new dividing lines, the duration of which will be determined by the balance of forces of the newly formed alliances between the old and new players in the regional field.

To the majority of Arab states it is clear that the conclusion of the US-Iranian deal on the Iranian nuclear program and other issues of regional importance (as it has become clear that Washington and Tehran actively agree on the division of spheres of influence) will turn Iran into a new regional hegemon. This is despite the arguments against it put forth by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who tried during his visit to Riyadh on March 5 to reassure the Arabian monarchy that allegedly the agreement on future limitations on Iran’s nuclear policy will not affect other aspects of Iranian foreign policy, and that Washington, as before, will actively resist Iranian expansionism.

Of course, the United States will not suddenly become a friend to Iran, as it fears the Arabian Peninsula – too much separates them. Moreover, it assures the Sunni monarchy (in the course of John Kerry’s above-mentioned visit to Riyadh) that for the sake of their protection it even deployed a “nuclear umbrella” over them. Not accidentally, pedaling this topic, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his memorable speech to Congress on March 3, not without reason, said: “This regime will always be America’s enemy. Do not be fooled. The battle between Iran and ISIL will not turn Iran into a friend to America. Iran and ISIL are competing for the crown of militant Islam.”

Naturally, in the White House no one thinks that Iran in its present form has become a friend of the United States. The discussion centers on a more remote calculation – removing sanctions would significantly strengthen the position of the pro-American liberals in Iran among the major bourgeoisie interested in regime change and prevent Tehran from using Islam as a foreign policy tool for expansion. In other words, the deal on the Iranian nuclear program is an attempt to provoke another coup in the Middle East, now in Iran, where Washington has gained experience over the past 10 years. However, the plans of Washington’s strategists are not being realized as they imagined them. The US has already suffered a series of humiliating defeats in the region after the war unleashed here under the anti-terrorism slogans and as a result of the pseudo-democratic revolutions provoked from overseas.Suffice it to mention that mere military intervention in Iraq and attempts to reform the Iraqi state by American design led to a severe crisis in the country and put it on the brink of collapse.

In other countries, attempts through the so-called democratic revolution to bring “the Muslim Brotherhood”, which is friendly to Washington, to power not only caused the resistance of the Wahhabi monarchies of the Persian Gulf, but also provoked the most intense conflicts, primarily in Syria and Libya.

In view of these processes a new paradigm materialized in the region cast in the form of Sunni and Shiite opposition, and in essence – the confrontation of Iran and several Sunni monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula, led by Saudi Arabia. This Sunni alliance, for its own survival, will be forced to a greater or lesser rapprochement with Israel, which is concerned not so much with Iranian nuclear weapons as with the expansion of Tehran’s influence, regardless of whether it possesses nuclear weapons or not. Hence the widespread rumors of the impending deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel on the Palestinian issue, which will open the way to a direct alliance of Zionists and Wahhabists. While it is hard to believe, it is clear that the rise of Shiite Iran obviously reduces the strategic importance of Israel in the eyes of the US and deprives it of the status of an indispensable ally of Washington in the Middle East, and Tel Aviv must do something about this.

The strengthening of Tehran’s regional position and the formation of an independent Kurdistan, or one in confederal relations with Baghdad, is obviously a blow to Ankara’s position, as well as its claims to regional leadership under the guidance of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey is attempting to resist these processes through the tacit connivance with ISIL actions, as well as attempts, if not to overthrow the pro-Iranian Assad regime, then to gain direct or indirect control of the north of the country, providing support for the so-called “moderate” Syrian opposition.  However, it is clear that Washington ‘s flirtation with Tehran, including through its interactions with the Shiite militia fighting ISIL, greatly reduces the chances of Ankara preserving its Middle Eastern gains. The Turkish response to the rapprochement between Washington and Tehran has manifested as an independent Turkish policy in relations with Russia, strengthening their energy alliance. However, we can not exclude that Ankara, counteracting the rise of Iran, will begin to strengthen its position on the energy front by creating new energy transportation systems with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

The big question is whether Washington will be able to get Turkey and Iran, in the context of growing rivalry between them, to agree on the formation of a gas transportation corridor from Iran to Europe in order to reduce the energy dependence of the EU on Russian gas. So far, while the current regime remains in Tehran, prospects are poor. The priorities of all the key players do not coincide.

For completeness, we should direct our attention to the attempts of Saudi Arabia, under the new King Salman, to form an alliance with the anti-Shia support for Egypt’s armed forces. Riyadh expects to win approval at the upcoming summit of the Arab League on March 28-29 for the idea of ​​creating a unified armed forces of the Arab League with the participation of Egypt, KSA, Kuwait, and the UAE, since the military-political alliance of the GCC countries promoted by the late King Abdullah of the KSA has already failed. It is not accident that at the last donor conference in Sharm el-Sheikh on March 12-13 the Gulf monarchies announced an aid package to Cairo of 12 billion dollars. It is clear that one good turn deserves another. According to the plan of Riyadh, no matter how illusory this alliance may look, it can materialize if Turkey’s support is obtained for joint opposition to the hegemonic aspirations of Tehran. This question was the main issue of the recent (February 28 – March 2) negotiation by Erdogan in Riyadh. In the near future a visit to Ankara is expected by either Salman himself or his son, Defense Minister Mohammed, in order to continue negotiations.

At the same time, all major regional players, analyzing the actions of the US to lift the sanctions against Iran on the pretext of its renunciation of nuclear weapons and guarantees of the peaceful use of nuclear energy (despite the fact that Iran appears to have no intention to develop nuclear weapons and has repeatedly stated the opposite), draw the conclusion of a likely further distancing of Washington from what is happening in the region. After all, the United States, based on its own strategies to preserve global domination, now must regroup its forces to increase pressure on China and Russia, which are challenging US hegemony and actively working to create a multi-polar system of international relations instead of the failed formula of a unipolar world. And for this reason the United States needs to dramatically reduce its involvement in the affairs of the Middle East, but not allow Russia and China to take its place, using for this purpose an alliance with Tehran.

In other words, the leading states in the Middle East are preparing for the period when they do not have to rely on Washington, first, because of its unwillingness to take up the task of maintaining regional stability, and second, because of its unreliability as a partner, as the period of the so-called Arab revolutions clearly showed.

In the final analysis, Washington, by turning Iran into a regional gendarme to replace Israel, is in danger of losing on all fronts.

The credibility of its policy in the region for all the key players – Turkey, Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia – has been deeply undermined after all the somersaults of recent years, and has never been possessed by Iran. Tel Aviv and the Sunni monarchies of the Persian Gulf have now started to use all their resources to influence Washington in order to, using the existing division of American elites, first prevent further US-Iranian rapprochement, and second impede Washington’s quick and inexpensive exit of the region. The inertia of the large-scale US military presence in the Middle East is really hard to break (as evidenced by the Pentagon’s decision to keep a thirty thousand-strong contingent in Afghanistan) – and its extension will result in the inability of the White House to focus all its resources on the fight against Moscow and Beijing. By playing against all, Washington risks being left without allies and with big problems.

Maxim Egorov, a political commentator on the Middle East and contributes regularly for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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