New Mideast Story

The usual narration regarding the present-day political map of the Mideast is both usual and strange. Usual, because it depicts the power alignments that are customary for decades. The USA, as the keeper of the balance of power in the region, is the ally of Israel in the conflict with the Arabs (the Palestinian dossier), allied with Saudi Arabia and the small Gulf states (Qatar, UAE, etc.) with regard to the oil problem and regional security, supporter of Egypt and Jordan to keep peace in the region, relentless adversary of the theocratic Iran for almost four decades, of Syria, defined as a ‘rogue state’ together with Iran and North Korea, still involved in the Iraq invaded in 2003 and ravaged by ongoing insurgency. Strange, because this narration projects a variable geometry of US alliances/friendships, in which Israel and Saudi Arabia are allies, but belonging to opposite camps, Saudi Arabia is ambiguous in the actions conducted throughout the region, from the enmity with Iran to the ambivalence over the evolution of the revolution-torn Egypt, so somehow promoting the change of the regional geography.
In brief, even if it is strange, the classic narration is that of an America that acts like a preponderant, undisputable actor capable to keep the whole intricacy of contradictory interests in an iron fist and allow or determine evolutions which will keep the regional volatility in a predictable state.
A completely new narration seems to get in place these days, a completely new one and with a striking content. The regional hegemon is strongly contested by its most faithful allies of the old paradigm, namely Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Last week, Saudi Arabia refused to hold a place of non-permanent member in the UN Security Council, a decision announced by Riyadh as meant as a warning not for the international organisation, but for the USA as well. Saudi officials voiced criticism towards the present initiatives of Washington, especially with regard to Syria and the opposition within this country, bloodily repressed by the Assad regime. For instance, this is what Saudi Prince Turki Al-Faisal Al-Saud, the director of a research centre in his country, said in an interview last week: “There is definitely, from a public opinion point of view in the kingdom, a high level of disappointment in the US government’s dealings, not just with Palestine, but equally with Syria, and the efforts to strengthen the moderate opposition, the inclusive opposition.” It is worth mentioning that it is not the first time when Saudi Arabia expresses such criticism towards the USA. As early as two years ago, at the peak of the Arab Spring, Riyadh voiced doubts over the support granted by the USA to toppling Mubarak in Egypt and formally communicated it, adding that it will be forced to seek support for its security somewhere else, as the USA became ‘unreliable.’ Things have aggravated meanwhile, with a ‘peak’ reached these recent weeks, when the USA avoided a military intervention in Syria, reaching an agreement with Russia for dismantling the Syrian chemical arsenal and also started negotiations with Iran, the arch-enemy of Saudi Arabia at the Gulf. For now, through its recalcitrant attitude towards the USA, Saudi Arabia tries to influence the behaviour of Washington in Syria, where it is interested to speed up the toppling of Assad, while being also worried by the possible result of the negotiations already initiated with Iran over its nuclear arming dossier. Documents made public by ‘Wikileaks’ show that Riyadh favoured an American military strike against the uranium enriching facilities controlled by Iran and suspected to be used in the construction of the atomic bomb.
In its turn, Israel is today very concerned with this latter issue, and the relations between Jerusalem and the Obama Administration cooled significantly over the last few weeks, after the beginning of Iran’s negotiations with the ‘group of six’ (the five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany). For Jerusalem, a result of the negotiations between Iran and this group of major powers that would not result in the dismantling of all its nuclear facilities would mean failure and the continuity of Tehran’s nuclear programme. Suring a meeting held on October 23 in London with the US Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli PM B. Netanyahu was very explicit with this regard. He clearly told his interlocutor: “A partial deal that leaves Iran with these capabilities is a bad deal/…/You wisely insisted there wouldn’t be a partial deal with Syria. You’re right. If (Syrian President Bashar) Assad had said, ‘Well, I’d like to keep, I don’t know, 20 percent, 50 percent, or 80 percent of my chemical weapons capability,’ you would have refused, and correctly so.”
The new Mideast story does not stop here. The Obama Administration has very powerful opponents at home, which accuse it of a defective management of the US foreign policy, which alienates the allies and substantially neglects the national interests. In an article published Saturday, October 26, by The Washington Post under the title ‘Obama is failing the Middle East, and U.S. interests there,’ Republican senators John McCain (Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (North Carolina) presented the motives which they consider as valid to justify the serious statement that the Obama Administration has abdicated from the leading role of the USA in this region. And this political direction – the aforementioned senators affirm –seriously impacts the national security interests of the USA. According to the Republican senators, the policy of the Obama Administration is best illustrated in this region by the abandoning of the ‘Free Syrian Army,’ the main instrument of the moderate opposition in the present civil was that made more than 100,000 victims in two years and displaced tens of thousands of refugees. They mention that “President Obama specifically committed to us in the Oval Office that his strategy in Syria was to degrade the Assad regime’s military capabilities, upgrade the capabilities of the moderate opposition and shift the momentum on the battlefield, leading to a negotiated end to the conflict and the departure of President Bashar al-Assad from power.” Moreover, the two Republican senators believe that this policy of the administration is part of the most comprehensive “collapse of US credibility in the Middle East,” revealed by the fact that “Israel and our Gulf Arab partners are losing all confidence in the competence, capability and wisdom of the administration’s diplomacy in the region. America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, in particular, is deteriorating rapidly, to the detriment of U.S. national security interests.” As for the negotiations with Iran, the senators are firm in demanding that the end of the current sanctions against this country is decided only if Tehran gives up its uranium enrichment plan. In their opinion, the policy of the USA in this very important region of the planet is marked by failure and lack of credibility, fully demonstrated by the ongoing events.
In brief, a political failure for Washington in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia and Israel firmly opposing the present line of the Obama Administration in the Syrian and Iranian dossiers. Israel and the Sunni axis being formed on the same position contrary to the US policy in the region, these form the backbone of the new regional narration that can also herald a new dynamic of events. If this will mean the failure of negotiations on destroying the chemical arsenal of Syria and a war against Iran, it will become obvious soon.

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