By Norman A. Bailey
October 7, 2019
Until very recently the geopolitical configuration of
the Middle East appeared to be stabilizing: Iran faced crippling economic and
financial sanctions imposed by a growing antagonistic coalition including the
US, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The US was engaged throughout the region after a period of hesitation.
Russia and Turkey were playing their games but their influence was limited
primarily to the Syrian arena.
Then suddenly everything came unstuck. The US
administration committed a fundamental error in not responding forcefully to
the Iranian downing of a US drone, which has led to a weakening of its
influence and which was then compounded by a weak response to the Iranian
attack on the Saudi oil facilities, further weakening Washington’s
position. Additionally, the
administration itself is now in the throes of an impeachment crisis, with the
inevitable reduction of attention to other concerns.
Israel can’t form a government, despite two elections
in five months. No resolution is in
sight, despite the fact that no one wants a third election. As a result, Israeli attention is also
distracted from regional matters.
Unexpectedly, severe, widespread rioting has erupted
in Iraq and most surprisingly and dangerously, in Egypt.
The result of all this is that the burgeoning
anti-Iran coalition is coming apart, with the UAE trying to mend fences with
Tehran. The Sisi government in Egypt is looking vulnerable, and Russia and
Turkey are now encouraged to increase their interference in regional matters.
This is an explosive mix. Iran is encouraged to
continue and increase its provocations in the Gulf, since clear acts of war
were largely ignored by their targets. Iran has been led to believe that
instead of having to make concessions to get sanctions eased, it can force
their removal or reduction by direct action.
There is little likelihood of a significant reaction
to this threat from either Washington, Jerusalem or Riyadh for the time
being. Appeasement of Iran would be
disastrous, but now forceful confrontation would also flirt with disaster. It
is a true conundrum created by the fecklessness of the Israeli and American
Norman A Bailey is the author of numerous books and
articles and recipient of several honorary degrees, medals and awards and two
orders of knighthood. He also teaches economic statecraft at The Institute of
World Politics and has experience on the staff of the National Security Council
at the White House, in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and
in business, consulting and finance. He is professor of economics and national
security at the National Security Studies Center, University of Haifa, and a
columnist for Globes, the Israeli business and financial newspaper.
Original Headline: Whither the Middle East now?
Source: The Asia Times