Ever since the final collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, the Middle East has become increasingly complex from the geopolitical standpoint, until very recently.
It is still the playground of internal and external forces, but now, at least the situation of the Arab countries is becoming clearer. They are either on the side of Saudi Arabia/Israel/Egypt/UAE/Bahrain and the US or waiting in the wings to join that alliance, such as Oman and Kuwait, or they are part of the Iranian coalition of failed states: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and non-state actors: Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, al-Quaida and ISIS.
External actors include the US, Russia, Turkey and China. The US has been firmly aligned with the Saudi/Egyptian bloc; Russia will shift its activities in whatever way it believes will enhance its penetration of the Eastern Mediterranean, especially its air and naval bases on the Syrian coast. Turkey is aligned with Qatar, and playing a long game to try to recreate Turkish hegemony in the region. China is playing all sides while penetrating the region economically, politically and militarily, with a naval base in Djibouti, at the mouth of the Red Sea.
Odd man out in the new alignment is the Palestinian Authority, tepidly supported by Iran and Turkey, but formally allied with neither. US policy towards the PA is about to be reversed by the incoming Biden administration in the US, but its future still looks glum unless its leadership undergoes a fundamental change, which is quite possible, with Mohamed Dahlan waiting on the sidelines, supported by the UAE.
The pivotal position of Israel in the Sunni alliance will only continue to grow, unless it proves incapable of resolving its eternal political crisis. The IDF and the Mossad are acting more and more in an autonomous fashion, with weak or absent political supervision, which is clearly a threat to the future of Israeli democracy, along with a political class that can only be described as feckless.
The geopolitical reality determines that Turkey and Russia must continue to be in competition in the region, as they have been in Syria. In its push to re-create its lost hegemony, Turkey is supported only by Qatar, and is battling far above its weight, presaging eventual defeat. Iran, plagued by economic and social problems of significant magnitude, will look to the Biden government to save it from inevitable defeat by the Sunni-Israel alliance. Only here is there any serious likelihood of open warfare, and avoiding such a disaster will be the central dilemma of the Middle East in 2021.
All-in-all, unless the US reverts to Obama-style appeasement of Iran, the new configuration of the region is largely positive. Plague-ravaged 2020 saw a realignment that substantially improves the position of the Western-oriented alliance, but only time will tell if the improvement will continue or be reversed, and that will be decided above all, in Washington and Jerusalem.
Dr. Norman Bailey is professor of Economic Statecraft at the Galilee International Management Institute, and adjunct professor at the Institute of World Politics, Washington DC. Dr. Bailey was a senior staff member of the National Security Council during the Reagan administration and of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence during the George W. Bush administration.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 17, 2020
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