Internal polarization of Middle East has reached a critical level. Engagement lines and hotbeds of tensions increase both between Sunnite (Saudi Arabia) and Shiite (Iran) power centers and inside the Arab world. Leading players in the region are getting more and more involved into confrontation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia’s failed partner.
One of the powers behind that polarization is the Middle East Quartet – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and UAE, the major promoters of the new large-scale project in the region i.e. Arab nationalism based on “moderate Islam.”
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin-Salman has almost full power in the largest Arab monarchy under his elderly father, King Salman bin-Abdul-Aziz al-Saud. The 32-year old crown prince is believed to be the ideological promoter of the project that is, in fact, designed to fight the Islamic Republic of Iran. Under flags of Arab nationalism and moderate Islam, the Quarter seeks to get more impressive configuration in the fight against its Shiite rival. However, Saudi crown prince’s efforts have not resulted in such expansion yet.
Jordan and Kuwait, in turn, support the Arab nationalism doctrine, at large, but they avoid tough talks against Tehran. Anti-Iranian initiatives of Saudi Arabia in the League of Arab States are ignored by Iraq and Lebanon.
Pakistan prefers close military and political relations with Saudi Arabia to promising economic ties with Iran. Islamabad that is de-facto the only Islamic nuclear capital, even offers “security guarantees” to Saudi Arabia in the fight against Iran. However, there is nothing certain about this so far.
Finally, United States and even traditional geopolitical antipode of the region, Israel, are ready to join the anti-Iranian “progressive Arab nationalism.”
“Malicious tongues” among expert society in the Middle East say Saudi Crown Prince has hastily announced the doctrine – it has not been finalized and is in the process of development along with growing polarization – to win Israel to its side. Having no traditional “superstitions” of the Arab world, the young monarch is ready to cooperate with the most technologically and economically developed country in the Middle East having highly-capable army and powerful intelligence in the region. This irritates the non-Quartet Arab countries and other major forces, including Turkey.
The latter is a special issue of Saudi Arabia, its energetic future king and closest allies in the Quartet. Riyadh’s efforts to win Ankara to its side and oppose Tehran have failed. After President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Saudi Kingdom in March and December 2015, Turkey has gradually got rid of Saudi influence. Ankara has not only rejected Saudi Arabia’s generous promises of investments in economy in exchange for confrontation with Iran, but also took anti-Saudi stance in some regional issues.
Turkish government continued supporting Muslim Brothers hated by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, provided support to the Quarter-blocked Qatar, gained ‘moderate’ militants in Syria that were once supported by al-Saud family to their side. Besides, Turkey and pro-Saudi bloc had serious discrepancies in Palestine, especially its enclave Gaza Strip.
The Kingdom still nurses a century-old Arab grievance against the follower of Ottoman expansionism for his cooperation with Shiite power center. Erdogan preferred peaceful relations with its Iranian neighbor to friendship with Saudis. The Quartet countries are sure that Ankara along with Tehran keeps splitting the Arab world. As a result, Turkey and Iran have become another source of polarization in the region.
Persian Gulf monarchies believe that Iran controls four Arab capitals: Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus and Sana. The same claims are made to Turkey and in the same “geopolitical proportion.” Ankara has made success in four points of the Arab world, where crisis processes of recent years help filling the vacuum with foreign forces. These are (1) northwest of Syria with the center of Turkish influence in Idlib, (2) northern regions of Iraq which Turkish military capacity is based on, (3) Qatar where Turkey established the first foreign military base in the Middle East and (4) Palestinian Gaza.
Uniting its supporters around the idea of ousting Iran from the region, Saudi Arabia has much to be indignant at, for instance, it has no foreign military base, whereas Iran and Turkey have almost obtained such and now dictate their agenda in the Middle East. Tehran is due to have a permanent military base in Syria amid discontent of Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Turkish base near Qatar’s capital Doha is another irritator for The Quarter leader. Besides, the Kingdom has to fight in permanent conflict with Yemen, the poorest Arab state.
The 29th Arab League Summit in the city of Dhahran in eastern Saudi Arabia on April 15 confirmed the worst concern of Saudi Arabia and its young ruler. Anti-Iranian initiatives of Saudi Arabia and its allies within The Quarter are blocked by Iraq and Lebanon. All-Arabian consensus within the League of Arab States to deter Iran is still unachievable, even when two leaders – Saudi Arabia and Egypt – exert great pressure on Baghdad and Beirut.
Attending the Summit were President of Iraq Fuad Masum and Lebanese President Michel Aoun. The Summit condemned alleged chemical attacks in Syria and demanded international intelligence. However, in the final statement, the League does not mention the government of Syria – its membership of the League was suspended in November, 2011.
As a result, Saudi Arabia and The Quartet had to limit themselves with tough talk on Iran and the “Syrian regime.” King Salman in his speech condemned Iran for “gross interference” into domestic affairs of Arab states.
At the behest of Riyadh, Arab leaders that gathered in the eastern city of the Kingdom, 160km from the Iranian coast of the Persian Gulf, discussed “destabilizing role” and “aggressive policy” of Tehran in the region. The leaders did not go beyond discussions and no specific steps were development to deter “Iran’s aggression” in the region. Only 14 countries of the Arab League were represented by the presidents. Qatar was represented at the lowest level – by official representative of the emirate.
Earlier, Saudi crown prince – reformer, ideologist of the “Arab nationalism with moderate-Islamic face” Mohammed bin-Salman called named the “evil triangle” in the Middle East: Iraq, Muslim-Brothers and other “extremist and terror groups.”
In previous interpretations of “evil triangle” some Arab mass media said the crown prince included in it Turkey as well. It is not certain if Riyadh is ready to rank Iran and Turkey at the same level of threat. It is evident, however, that The Quartet relations with Ankara are experiencing a deep crisis. Recall, Turkey’s rejection of Saudi Arabia’s generous offers on Iran and accusations addressed at UAE government related to organization of the July coup attempt in Turkey in 2016.
Interim result of the region’s polarization and mutual confrontation - strengthened militarization of the key sides to the conflict. The main “beneficiary” of packing Middle East with striking systems is the military and industrial sector of U.S. Meantime, President Donald Trump’s efforts to promote products of American defense corporations are facing more and more ironical criticism.
His personal meetings and phone talks with Arab monarchs during which he presents U.S.-produced weapons are called “comical.” Such commercial activity of the president is not characteristic to any of his predecessors.
Trump may hold a presentation of U.S. military-industrial projects in the Oval Office, when he meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed. Afterwards, receiving Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, he will call the relations of U.S. with that Arab country “extremely good,” and introduce him to media like “a gentleman who buys much equipment, many military aircrafts, missiles and other products from the United States.”
Trump’s work in this sector is not fully accessible to the public. Recently, Reuters shared information on content of Trump’s phone talks with Kuwait Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah held yet in January. Trump acted like a “dealer” between the Kuwaiti customer and American Boeing Corporation. Reuters reported that Trump “exerted pressure” on Sheik al-Sabah demanding him to get the $10 billon arms deal moving.
Trump openly “converts” military and political influence of U.S. on monarchies of the Persian Gulf into multi-million arms deals, which lays another delayed-action mine under Middle East. Trump Administration’s efforts to withdraw U.S. from multilateral agreement on Iran’s nuclear program promote polarization of the region.
EADaily’s Middle East Bureau