Is the Middle East on its way to strategic independence?


Note: this is a machine translation from the original Russian text

For many decades, the development, particularly political, of the Middle East has been a "derivative" of global trends. Simplifying a bit, we can say that peace and war here depended on the decisions and actions of primarily external players, whether they were the "powers" of the 19th century or the "great powers" of the 20th century.

However, now we can see more and more evidence of the "sovereignization" of the region: the internal dynamics of the Middle East political processes are beginning to prevail, and now external players are forced to adapt to it. In any case, such an impression is formed when looking at the situation from the point of view of our basic hypothesis, according to which the basis of the regional architecture is a system of relations between three non–Arab countries – Iran, Israel and Turkey – as well as a heterogeneous "Arab Mashrik" (East), within which its own triangle dominates - the KSA, the UAE, the ARE, supplemented by Qatar.

As part of such a scheme, we saw some time ago how Iran's status was purposefully raised – almost to the level of a "responsible regional player" and a de facto nuclear power. This put Tehran on a par with Tel Aviv and Ankara.

In this new – recognized – capacity, Iran has led the way to normalize relations with the Arabs (first of all, the KSA). That is, in fact, he followed the same course that Israel took a little earlier and Turkey is also moving along.

The Iranian-Arab normalization was carried out on three main platforms – in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen; its main content was balancing the interests of Tehran and Riyadh. And, apparently, this process has been going on and is going on, in general, productively. Judge for yourself: in Iraq, the parliament was finally able to elect a president and appoint a new government - and this despite the wave of unrest that shook the country in late summer and early autumn. At that moment it seemed that there would be no compromise, but it turned out that, on the contrary, the compromise was born as a result of the "mutiny" of supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr.

A compromise was also reached in Lebanon: there Hezbollah approved an agreement with Israel on maritime borders. Without going into the interpretation of all the subtleties of regional policy, we can still conclude that this fact is a signal that Tehran will not become a wall on the path of Israeli-Lebanese reconciliation (or, speaking in a local context, "normalization"). And this, in turn, can be understood as the Iranians securing more advantageous positions for themselves in bargaining with the KSA on the issue of a new Lebanese president. After all, now, if Riyadh fails to reach an agreement with Tehran on this issue, the fate of the maritime agreement will be at stake. That is, thereby the Saudis will find themselves in opposition not only to the Iranians, but also to the Israelis and Americans (the main sponsors and authors of the Lebanese-Israeli deal on maritime borders).

Finally, in Yemen, despite the fact that the terms of the ceasefire agreements between the Houthis and the government (and in fact, the pro–Saudi coalition) have expired, nevertheless, large-scale hostilities have not resumed. The parties are clearly trying not to upset the balance.

Of course, against this background, the publications in the American press of the "revelations" of Saudi intelligence about Iran's allegedly "imminent" attacks on its Arab neighbors and, above all, on the KSA itself sounded very threatening. In response to this "call", Washington even sent its warplanes "towards Iran" from bases in the Gulf. Finally, Riyadh announced that it was ending contacts with Tehran, which apparently meant the closure of negotiations in Baghdad, which the parties had been conducting for quite a long time in order to restore diplomatic relations.

All this sham, especially in the conditions of incessant unrest in Iran, it would seem, should have indicated the failure of attempts at Arab-Iranian normalization. And if so, then this should be followed by another wave of escalation, which will inevitably return the region to full control of external forces led by the United States, which means that there is no need to talk about the "sovereignization" of the Middle East.

However, it seems that the situation is somewhat different.

And the key to understanding the situation is the change of government in Israel, or rather, the first statements of the new-old Prime Minister Netanyahu, in which he outlined the priorities of his regional strategy. The number one there is the involvement of new Arab countries in normalization with Israel. And only number two is countering Iran.

The fact that Iran has receded into the background is news in itself. But the main question that I would like to clarify is: with which Arab countries exactly does Bibi intend to "normalize"? After all, if you look carefully, then the entire potential reserve in this direction has been exhausted: Israel already has relations with Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and partly with Sudan. Either "irreconcilable" ones, such as Algeria, Iraq, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, or "unnecessary" ones (because they are dilapidated), like Libya, Yemen, remained outside the process of "normalization".; or those who are already cooperating with Tel Aviv in fact, but do not want to do it officially – Oman, Qatar. These latter, by the way, may be of considerable interest, along with, for example, Kuwait.

But still, the main goal of "normalization" is Saudi Arabia. There can be no doubt that Tel Aviv, as well as Tehran and Ankara, wants to get it.

If we evaluate the events of recent weeks from this point of view, we can assume that the essence of what is happening, in particular, in Iran, as well as in Iranian-Saudi relations, is the "jealousy" of the Israelis. They cannot allow Iran to normalize its relations with the KSA first. This means that the struggle for the Saudi Kingdom is heating up between Israel and Iran – just like for the heart of a beautiful (and fabulously rich) princess.

Until recently, the initiative was in the hands of the Iranians, and it almost came to restoring diplomatic relations with the Saudis. But the explosion of large-scale unrest in Iran disrupted this process, and now Netanyahu is ready to seize the initiative.

At the same time, Ankara does not stand aside, it also wants to be the first to get Riyadh into its arms. The Turks are putting pressure on the economy: during the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Turkey a few months ago, billion–dollar contracts were signed, and this is a trump card that neither Israel nor Iran can boast of. In addition, the Turks, unlike their two rivals, have established excellent relations with the closest and very influential neighbors of the KSA – the Emirates and Qatar. And they can also act as an ally of the Saudis in Syria (and Lebanon), balancing the influence of Iran and Israel there.

Assessing the situation of interaction within the triangle, one should always keep in mind that each of the "corners" seeks to prevent the union of the other two against it. That is, Iran is not afraid of Israel or Turkey as such, but of their tandem. And the same applies to all others: Tel Aviv takes care that Tehran and Ankara do not get together, and Ankara does not want this to happen between Tehran and Tel Aviv, no matter how impossible this option may seem.

If we assume that at the moment the main struggle is unfolding between Israel and Iran for the right to "normalize" with Saudi Arabia, Turkey may have a decisive role: it is she who is able to swing the scales in one direction or another. Therefore, before winning the heart of the Saudis, the rivals will have to compete for the sympathy of the Turks.

The Israelis have had a difficult time: the restoration of diplomatic relations, the president's visit to Ankara, the resumption of military-technical cooperation, etc. The Iranians seem to be lagging behind.

But they have their own set of proposals to the heirs of the Ottomans: the main dish here is the joint fight against Kurdish militants in Iraqi Kurdistan. And, as you can see, in this field, IRI and TR are quite capable of joint actions: The Iranian IRGC's massive strikes on Kurdish bases in Iraq actually coincided with a similar Turkish operation.

And on Syrian soil, Iran probably has something to offer the Turks. Especially considering the Turkish gas hub project, which could bring Iranian gas to world markets.

In short, the possibility of an Iranian-Turkish tandem capable of making an offer to Riyadh, which will be extremely difficult to refuse, cannot but excite (if not frighten) Tel Aviv. They understand here that it is very difficult to keep Ankara in the Israeli orbit; it can slip out of their hands at any moment. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Israelis are dragging Turkey's "sibling" Azerbaijan into their game, while systematically pitting Baku and Tehran against each other. The calculation is simple: mutual hostility between Azerbaijan and Iran, their mutual provocations (fortunately, there is Armenia) will force Ankara to side with Baku and against Tehran. This is an additional insurance…

You can analyze the situation further, gradually expanding the geography and/or delving into local problems. However, it seems that the above analysis is enough to make sure that the political processes in the Middle East region are gaining their own dynamics, their own content. The game that is being played inside the contours we have described is not a derivative of the development of the external, global environment. And this is the main characteristic of the new stage of regional development.