Does regional organization in the Middle East have any prospects?


In this regard, Turkey’s initiative to create a new system of international security guarantees in the Middle East is of great interest. We can assume that we are talking about the formalization of the structure of the balance of regional forces, the creation of which we have repeatedly written about.

The main supporting structure here should be the Iran-Israel axis. They are close to a direct clash, but they are not crossing the line.

The key factor in this situation is Iran’s position: whether it intends and is able to prevent the conflict from widening and, in particular, to maintain full control over Lebanese Hezbollah and keep the West Bank Palestinians from another Intifada. What has happened (or rather, has not happened) in the past month since the start of the operation allows us to assert: Iran is fully capable of doing this and is not seeking to take steps toward escalation of the conflict. This was confirmed in the speech of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah; it is also confirmed by the passivity of the «resistance groups» in the West Bank, which do not rush to support their brothers in Gaza and do not react in any way to the constant raids of the Israeli military, accompanied by numerous arrests and killings of Palestinians.

Of course, Tehran is helped in keeping its clients in line by two American carrier groups in the Mediterranean Sea. Without them, it would have a much harder time convincing them to be circumspect and patient. In any case, for the moment, it can be considered that the Islamic Republic has proved its responsibility and treaty-making ability: Iran is not going to unleash a war for the «destruction of Israel». Its goal is to gain recognition of its presence in the Mediterranean and to establish a balance of power with Israel. Apparently, the olive tree planted by the head of the Iranian Foreign Ministry on the Lebanese-Israeli border was not an empty gesture….

The flip side of this situation is the fundamental change in Israel’s place. It will no longer be able to remain the only «great and terrible» in the Middle East. Tel Aviv will have to recognize, first, that Iran is now just as «great and terrible» and will remain so for the coming era. And secondly, the Israelis will have to renegotiate with their neighbors, and this will hardly be limited to bilateral Abraham Accords with Arab countries. The future balance of power in the region will require multilateral arrangements, a whole system of agreements that will inevitably impose significant responsibilities and constraints on Israel.

Turkey has taken the initiative to do just that: President Erdogan is persistently developing the theme of a regional security and guarantee mechanism. Of course, behind this idea it is not difficult to guess Ankara’s desire to expand its influence in a strategically important region of the world, preventing it from being divided between Israel and Iran. The heirs of the Ottoman Empire are eager to take the place of an arbiter in the inevitable disputes between Jews, Persians and Arabs, while acting as NATO’s representative.

It is possible that this concept of some Middle Eastern analogue of the CSCE (the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, which evolved into the Organization — OSCE) may be of interest to the United States. It could become a convenient shell for developing the logic of the «deal of the century»: peace in exchange for investment. Experience has shown that this, in essence, not political but business model attracts the current generation of many regional politicians, particularly in the Arab world. They do not mind selling their «principled position» on the Palestinian issue, or any other issue, as long as the price is acceptable and security is guaranteed.

Before the current war in Gaza, the deal might have been packaged in the Abraham Accords. But that form is now clearly outdated; bilateral Arab-Israeli arrangements need to come up with something more legitimate and inclusive — that is, inclusive of all states in the region. Ankara’s initiative may be the best option. Especially since in doing so, Turkey becomes an integral and crucial part of the process, whereas «Abraham» left it «out of the picture».

It is quite possible to assume that this set of issues was discussed at the meetings of the American Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his visit to the region at the end of last week. He visited Tel Aviv, then in Amman met with the foreign ministers of Jordan, KSA, UAE, Qatar, Egypt, with representatives of the Palestinian Authority, with the head of the Lebanese government, then visited Baghdad and finished his tour in Ankara.

Thus, it seems that the Middle East is preparing to launch the process of forming a fundamentally new mechanism for managing the regional situation. Its main difference from what it was before is its reliance on regional players: Iran, Israel, Turkey and the Arab world (the Gulf, Egypt, Jordan). This mechanism will replace attempts to manage the process of «Middle East settlement» (MES) from the outside, i.e. with reliance on global actors: the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the UN. These attempts have completely exhausted themselves, they are null and void — as well as the Oslo Accords of thirty years ago, which were supposed to be the basis for the realization of the two-state solution. Everything will have to be started from scratch, and — this is very important — in a strictly regional format. That is, the direct and immediate participants in the process will be exclusively the states of the region.

It seems that this requirement — «the affairs of the region are handled only by the countries of the region» — will be the basic one. In any case, this formula has been repeatedly voiced by Iran, and its opinion cannot be ignored now. But it may also be very interesting for Turkey: being a NATO member, it may well assume the role of a representative of the Alliance (the collective West) in the region, replacing both the EU and, at the very least, the US. However, for the Arab countries (Gulf, Egypt, Jordan, PNA), such regional closure is likely to be unacceptable: they will never refuse American guarantees (for a number of reasons). And in this, Israel will be in solidarity with them.

As a result, the format of «the Middle East plus the U.S. behind its back» may emerge. And then the question will arise: who will balance the Americans? Who will be invited to the same «behind the back» participation — Turkey and/or Iran?

The answer, it would seem, is simple: Russia, of course. But is it the only one? Apparently not; there is a very high probability that an invitation will be sent to Beijing as well.

The result is «Middle East plus three». It seems to be not bad.

However, I would like to point out some disadvantages of this formula for Russia. The fact is that in the current situation of tough Russian-American confrontation, it is very difficult to imagine that the Americans would agree to joint constructive work with Russia in the Middle East. It is extremely likely that they will sabotage Russian participation in every possible way without risking being «kicked out the door» themselves: Washington has a whole network of agreements with all countries in the region, with the exception of Iran. This will allow the US to remain «behind the scenes» under almost any conditions.

It is also very likely that the American policy towards China will be different: it will be recognized as a full-fledged and responsible participant in the regional game, which will be offered to adjust to the existing «rules». And China is likely to agree to this: it is important for it to gain a foothold in the Middle East as firmly as possible without causing allergies to anyone.

This «pro-China and anti-Russian» strategy of Washington may be supported by Iran. The fact is that Tehran is working hard to become Moscow’s key strategic ally in the region. And in this capacity, it will — there can be no doubt about it — be happy to take on the role of a «dispenser» of Russian influence in the region. Another such «dispenser» will be Turkey, which also positions itself as a «reliable strategic partner» of Russia. As a result, a situation may arise in which Moscow will not have enough political potential to ensure its interests in the region to the necessary extent.

Moscow should take care of building up this potential as soon as possible.