New Emerging Middle East Alliances
By Sarah Ann Haves
U.S. President Barack Obama recently met with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, resulting in both countries agreeing to remain strategically aligned despite major tactical differences in Middle East policy.
The Saudis, as well as most Gulf States and Israel, have been concerned that the U.S. is slowly retreating from the region, and that America is no longer using its superpower influence to help its allies.
In 2013, Saudi Arabia, once a strong American ally, went so far as distancing itself from the Obama Administration in protest over the way the U.S. president was handling the Arab Spring uprising; the Syrian civil war; and the Iranian quest for nuclear power.
King Abdullah has been disappointed with Obama’s support for the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt, and his lack of support for the Sunni rebels in Syria.
In Israel, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon recently talked about America’s weakness and lack of leadership in the Middle East. U.S. officials, like Secretary of State John Kerry, were offended by his statements. But, many diplomats, analysts and journalists in the region have been vocalizing the same sentiments for years.
Meanwhile, leaders from Saudi Arabia and most Gulf States were deeply offended last year when it became public that the Obama Administration was negotiating with Iran through back channels. These Arab nations were also surprised when America began to limit military aid to Egypt, giving the impression that the U.S. continues to support the Moslem Brotherhood.
American foreign policy in the Middle East has been so erratic that some moderate Arab countries have felt they cannot rely on the U.S. anymore as a strategic ally.
Whether the Obama Administration admits it or not, America is losing its influence in the region and the vacuum of power is being filled by Russia. An example of this is how the Saudis, along with the UAE and Kuwait, recently rushed to finance an Egyptian-Russian military deal ordered by Egypt’s Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. This was an effort to compensate for the withdrawal of military aid by the Obama Administration.
Until Obama’s reign in the White House, the U.S. was a trusted ally of an Arab bloc of nations that had been fearfully facing an Iranian quest for hegemony. While the Iranian block (Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon) has remained strong, the U.S. bloc has almost disappeared.
This steep decline in American influence has been of great concern to Israel, surrounded now by hostile elements — both Sunni and Shiite terrorists — who are close to Israel’s borders and gaining military strength.
Obama’s decision to disengage as a leading power in the Middle East is causing extremist forces to fill in the gap. This issue was analyzed at a recent symposium in Jerusalem hosted by the Israel Council on Foreign Relations.
Dr. Zvi Barel, a writer for the Israeli news outlet, Haaretz, explained what has happened during the last three years of upheaval in the Middle East. He analyzed America’s status in the region and said it has diminished into tactical arrangements. Only military, intelligence and economic cooperation continues. “But, a strategic superpower who can impose solutions in the area is already gone and the area feels it.”
Barel said that countries are not going to detach themselves from America, but they are going to impose local solutions according to their desires, and then mobilize the U.S. – a definite shift in strategy.
Even before Obama went to meet with King Abdullah, the Saudi media was questioning his motives. The Saudis have been concerned that the U.S. is no longer interested in cooperating against terror, and at the same time, Iran is benefitting from this new situation. Iran is destabilizing Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, while supporting Hamas and Hezbollah. The way Barel sees it, “Iran has become a legitimate superpower in the area.”
Germany, France, and England are doing business with Iran now that some of the sanctions have lifted. Therefore, with U.S. authority in the Middle East on the decline, Iran is perceived as an important pillar in solving all kinds of regional conflicts.
What has added to the upheaval in the Middle East is that Arab countries, especially the Gulf nations, are at odds with one another. For example, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain recently recalled their ambassadors from Qatar and warned that it had to change its foreign policy. Qatar has aligned itself with the outlawed Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt, angering other moderate Arab states. Furthermore, Qatar has no plans to change its foreign policy.
Iran, which has only gained from the lack of unity among Arab nations in the region, continues to take advantage of increased instability.
Jonathon Spyer, an analyst from the Inter-Disciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, gave his impressions at the ICFR symposium. He explained that many of the current regional problems are due to a lack of American involvement in the Middle East. The previous U.S. led bloc of regional states has diminished. No states that were allied to the U.S. before are now acting in a cohesive manner. Yet, “the Iranian regional bloc is still very much there and very much able to act on a wide regional level…. Not one single element of that bloc has fallen as of the Arab Spring.”
In addition, Bashar Assad’s regime, has benefited from its participation in the Iranian bloc, according to Spyer. “In March 2011 and the beginning of 2012, Assad found that his friends were rallying around him and doing everything to make sure he would be O.K. He has enjoyed the bloc.”
While Hezbollah in Lebanon, the government of Iraq, and Assad’s regime have enjoyed the benefit of Iran’s training and financial backing, Hamas thought that former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi would create a new power center through the Moslem Brotherhood. That failed when Egypt’s military took control of the Egyptian government and cracked down hard on the Brotherhood. Now, Spyer says, Hamas is trying to find its way back to its masters in Iran and Syria.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Israel have had a sense of bewilderment because of America’s failed leadership in the Middle East, along with Iran’s ambitious and increased power in the region. Spyer is analyzing a new shift in alliances.
“What is taking place is flux on the former pro-American side, and we are trying to do our best to understand new emerging alliances.”
These alliances, Spyer concludes, are forming out of necessity due to the vacuum left by the Americans.
“We can begin to discern the emergence of a Cairo-Riyadh alliance – Sisi and the Saudi monarchy.”
|One can see
of a very
close alliance there…
Spyer believes that the coup, initiated by the Egyptian military last year, which deposed former Egyptian President Morsi, was actually produced by the Saudi’s with their support and money — along with the UAE. “One can see the beginnings of a very close alliance there which is going to draw behind it many of the smaller Sunni Arab nations.”
The Palestinians in the West Bank, Jordan, Egypt and smaller Gulf States will, most likely, join this new bloc. Spyer calls this new alliance a “Sunni Arab Saudi-Egyptian” bloc that will challenge the Iranian regional bloc.
Borders are the new problem in the Middle East. With the collapse of Syria, there has been a land grab by Sunni and Shiite forces having little respect for borders. “Within that conflict zone you have forces backed by Iran in a coherent coordinated way. On the other side, you have chaotic crisscrossing of various Sunni forces,” Spyer explains.
While Saudi Arabia is trying to effectively organize this new bloc in the absence of U.S. leadership in the Middle East, potent Sunni jihadi forces have emerged which were in decline before. Now, Spyer sees a de-facto Al Qaeda state evolving in western Iraq.
So, what does this mean for Israel? Israel was involved with the western U.S. led bloc before, even though it had no official relations with Arab states. With America at the helm, Israel had influence. But, Spyer acknowledges the current situation is problematic for Israel. “Israel is not going to be part of a Cairo-Riyadh factor.”
Countries will work together in security cooperation, and Israel will have a part in this. But, cooperation will, unfortunately, be at a basic level according to Spyer. He believes that Israel will still be able to defend itself, looking beyond the Arab world for help. He does not see Israel being successful in developing deeper and more profound contacts within the Arab world in the foreseeable future. However, Spyer is comforted by the fact that, “If there is a storm, we will find a safe port.”
Despite the Obama Administration’s confusing Middle East policy, and America’s diminishing role in the region, Israel will continue to look for ways to meet its security needs, seeking new partnerships to help it through what is expected to be more violent upheavals in the future.
“Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate His rule with trembling.” (Psalm 2:10-11)
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