Print
Rate this article
(no votes)
 (0 votes)
Share this article

In the latest days, the Middle East has once again been centre stage. While ISIL wrecks havoc in Iraq and Syria, Saudi Arabia and other nine states have intervened in ravaged Yemen. Meanwhile, negotiations have carried on in Lausanne, and the ‘nuclear deal’ was apparently struck with Iran. But how long will it last? How will Iran’s arch-enemy, Saudi Arabia (and Israel), react? Who is then the Friend, Iran or Saudi Arabia?

 

The West, and particularly the USA, should also be grateful to Iran. The Revolutionary Guard and the Quds Force, led by the famous general, Qasim Suleimani, have fought hard to defeat ISIL, and contributed to decisive victories: Tikrit has been encircled and is currently under siege. Despite three decades of sanctions, Iran’s economy is then still standing on its feet. In PPP terms, Iran is among the world’s top twenty economies, and its production is rather diversified, from petrochemicals to car making and machinery. Of course Tehran is a key player in the energy sector, and the country is second worldwide in terms of gas reserves (almost 16% of the world total); third for oil reserves (some 150 billion barrels, in 2007). Trading with Iran would represent an important opportunity for Western countries. Why should Iran still be marginalised?

 

Of course the USA has traditionally supported Saudi Arabia, since the 1945 pact between F.D. Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud aboard the US cruiser Quincy. But has Saudi Arabia always supported US interests? The Kingdom has been long involved in promoting Islamic radicalism and is currently engaged in a proxy war against Iran. The religious conflict between Sunni and Shi’a is to a large extent a much more secular struggle for regional power and influence. By fighting Iran, Saudi Arabia’s conservative monarchy promotes its Wahabi ideology, which is key to the Kingdom’s stability, and keeps alive its military economy, the profits of which are redistributed to a potentially restive middle class. Saudi absolutism will resist so long as the monarchy will be able to ‘buy’ the support of the majority of a population, over half of which is under 25 of age and increasingly exposed to Western media and education; let alone the fact that women have basically no rights and are still banned from driving. Despite all these issues, relations between Washington and Riyadh have consistently remained positive, and Saudi’s power of blackmail in the USA is still high. How long can all of this last? Will the US once again give in and sacrifice its relations with Tehran in the name of those with the Saudis? Will the EU as usual follow without any ideas or proposals?

 

In some aspects, relations between the USA and Riyadh are already rather strained. The Saudi monarchy has started the operation ‘Decisive Storm’ to restore order in Yemen and bring back to power President Hadi, who has been ousted by the Houthis, Shia militants who are allegedly backed by Iran. The USA is providing logistic and intelligence support, but seems to be wary of any direct intervention. The EU, the UN, Russia, and China, have all called for dialogue. The other Gulf States have joined, with the exception of Oman, while Pakistan’s position is rather ambiguous. The general perception is that the intervention in Yemen, a tremendously poor and conflict-ridden country, is mainly a result of Saudi regional ambitions vis-à-vis Iran. Even other Gulf countries might have different views: Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, for example, are important trade partners of Tehran and might see trading with Iran in a positive light. Why should the West always accommodate the Saudi monarchy’s ambitions?

 

Much more interesting and valuable seems to be El Sisi’s idea to organise a pan-Arab military force, mainly based on volunteers and aimed at addressing regional challenges, particularly ISIL and Jihadi groups. El Sisi’s proposal was voiced in the recent Arab League summit in Egypt (28-29 March; see http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/29/arab-leaders-agree-to-form-joint-military-force-to-combat-jihadis-in-region). Yet we wonder who will finance it? If it is mainly Saudi Arabia, then it would risk becoming another instrument of its regional influence aims. Certainly, an Arab army could create a sense of unity and some form of solidarity across the region; perhaps it could also help fight Jihadism, which, however, has deeper social and economic roots. Yet a pan-Arab army itself would not be enough.

 

The Arab countries, Iran, Turkey itself, should in fact sit together and negotiate some form of re-arrangement for the region, which was damaged by a disastrous US strategy during the ‘Arab spring’. ‘Winter’ has taken over from ‘spring’ and now peace talks are required. The EU itself should take the initiative and organise a kind of conference; involving Russia will help as well, and later China might become a partner, too. Risks are high because violence is spreading, and even solid countries like Turkey might be destabilised by other factors (Islamism, Kurdish independentism, tensions in the police and armed forces etc.). We have not even considered Israel. If we really want to avoid more chaos and violence spreading from the Middle East, the time to intervene is now. The EU (and perhaps the UN) has to take note.

 

Rate this article
(no votes)
 (0 votes)
Share this article
 
For business
For researchers
For students