The past three months of 2017 have shown what exactly awaits the Middle East in the near future. It is only natural that the “Islamic Caliphate” will continue losing its positions until it finally collapses. But this, by the way, does not mean an end to the fight. The fight will continue on the part of terrorists, bandits and mercenaries, and shall only grow into a more complex, hidden form of guerrilla warfare. At the same time, the struggle among those states, which so far are united in their struggle against Daesh, will be undermined to some extent.
It is unlikely that Saudi Arabia, which, because of the temporary absence of claims by Egypt, will reject its plans to assume leadership of the entire Arab world and its position as the main player in the Middle East region. Following Riyadh, Doha will continue its efforts to pump up its prestige, especially since its enormous accumulated wealth, created thanks to the impoverishment of other countries, allows it to do so. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates will not lag behind them, especially with its rulers convinced that all the affairs of the Arab world, and even more so among their neighbors – Syria and Iraq, should be solved only by the Arabs themselves, without resorting to the help of foreign “great powers”. By the way, all mosques still have special urns for donations to “our brothers, the victims of terror”. However, quite naturally, state structures and a host of princes make the main contribution. Thus, the financial, military and political fueling of the “fighters for freedom” in the region will continue, as well as the fact that the civilian population of not only the Middle East, but also the distant, disgraced Yemen and Somalia will perish.
But in addition to the Middle Eastern states themselves, there are a number of strong players who are vitally interested in the region. First of all, it is the United States and Russia, which have already staked their interests and are unlikely to leave the region or to give up their interests. In addition, there are local players such as Turkey and Iran. Beijing is also declaring its interest more and more persistently. It is only natural that at some stage all these countries will either cooperate or compete, bringing onboard local elites altogether and one by one.
Unlike other powers, Moscow clearly and specifically declared its noble position. Russia wants to finally put an end to world terrorism, starting with the bandits and mercenaries that still exist in Syria and Iraq, bury the “Islamic Caliphate” and restore the sovereignty of the Middle Eastern countries, to preserve the legally elected Syrian President Bashar Assad, and to bring peace and tranquility on the tormented region. Syria and Iraq, where the first states originated, should exist within their borders until the peoples themselves determine new borders and new states if they subsequently emerge. Moscow has repeatedly said and continues to insist that only the peoples themselves, within the framework of international laws, must determine their own destiny.
For example, one of the key points of the political settlement is the development and adoption of the new Constitution of Syria. Moscow put forward its own version for consideration, summarizing the proposals that were heard from the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition in recent years. At the same time, as Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov stressed, Russia does not seek to impose its project on anyone, but sets itself the task of stimulating discussion.
The new administration in Washington apparently wants to occupy a directly opposite position in Middle Eastern affairs. It is true that while Donald Trump did not clearly outline the position of the United States, a number of facts make it possible to clarify the further steps of the new administration. And in this regard, the results of the just-concluded visit to Washington by Iraqi Prime Minister Heydar Al-Abadi provided much information. In a conversation with him, Trump expressed regret over Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq in 2011. During the conversation, the politicians touched on one of the most acute problems for Iraq – the fight against Islamic terrorism. By the way, the US President Donald Trump’s second immigration decree excluded Iraq from the list of countries whose citizens were prohibited from entering the United States. Trump explained his decision saying that Baghdad is an important ally of the United States in the fight against Daesh terrorists. In other words, everything is now being done to bring Baghdad closer and to try to, if not tear it away from Tehran, but at least reduce Iranian influence.
If Trump regrets the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, it is clear that they can again turn up there permanently based on some kind of an agreement. Presently, the Iraqi leadership, being in a difficult situation due to the impossibility of taking Mosul under its complete control, because of constant political and financial disputes with the Kurds, is ready to resort again to employing the help of the United States to strengthen its very fragile position. Apparently, this is also in the interests of Washington, as long as Baghdad is able to pay for the military assistance. For example, in recent years, Iraq has spent $12 billion on weapons (though not the most modern weapons) and military equipment acquired from the United States.
In addition, Trump has begun showing off his military muscle by resorting to the old proven tactic of sending aircraft carriers to troubled regions of American interest, a kind of “gunboat policy”. For the first time since the inauguration of the US president, the US Navy’s carrier strike group returned to the Persian Gulf. The flagship became the latest aircraft carrier in the Nimitz class – the George H.W. Bush. Interestingly, in the Hormuz Bay, the Americans were greeted by ships belonging to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who escorted the Americans throughout the day, staying a considerable distance from the likely enemy. Earlier, President Trump stated that if the Iranians tried to block the passage of the American fleet, their ships would be “shattered”. A shiny, new attitude for an old policy.
And, finally, it will not be superfluous to analyze China’s growing influence in the region, its links to a number of Arab countries and, above all, with Riyadh. In this regard, perhaps, much has been clarified during the just concluded visit to Beijing of the Saudi King Salman ibn Abdul Aziz Al Saud. Many politicians noted that China and Saudi Arabia have already established a comprehensive strategic partnership. A year ago, Xi Jinping visited the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, establishing personal friendly relations with the Saudi King and his son, who occupies a number of important posts and is next in line to the throne. A large amount of materials is now being published showing that the two countries have had a long-term friendship, strategic cooperation, and all sorts of partnerships. But the figures do show that there are grounds for such very optimistic reports.
The Joint Statement adopted by both sides underlined the “support by the Chinese side of the efforts of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to realize ‘Vision: 2030’ and the desire of China to be the global partner of the Kingdom in the sphere of the diversification of its economy.” Saudi Arabia, in turn, declared its readiness to be a global partner in the creation of the “Economic Belt of the Silk Road” and the “Sea Silk Road of the XXI Century”, becoming its main participant the “Belt and the Road” project in Western Asia. At the same time, Riyadh and Beijing spoke in favor of the speedy establishment of a free trade zone between China and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The economic interdependence of China and Saudi Arabia is colossal; Saudi Arabia is the number one oil supplier to China and has long been its main foreign economic partner.
However, the problem lies in the sphere of political relations. It was no surprise that Saudi Arabia was the last of the Arab countries to establish diplomatic relations with China while it maintained close relations with Taiwan for a long time. One of the main reasons is the fear of communist expansion and the complete rejection by Riyadh of atheistic ideology and Marxism.
In short, and most political scientists agree, the countries of the Middle East expect great changes this year, and much will depend not on the peoples themselves, but on the world around them.
Victor Mikhin, a corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.“