By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, “Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative”
April 22, 2021, https://bit.ly/3sB9Fyo
2021 Middle East
While US policy in the Middle East focuses on multilateralism, human rights, democracy and international law, the stormy Middle East displays deeply-rooted domestic and regional Shiite (mostly Iran) and Sunni (mostly Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS) repression, terrorism and warfare, as well as imperial aspirations by Iran’s Ayatollahs and Turkey’s Erdogan.
The explosive state of the Middle East has highlighted the vulnerability and the actual/potential disintegration of Arab entities, which have always revered local/tribal – much more than national – loyalty.
This state of affairs emphasizes Western misinterpretation of the unpredictable, violently intolerant, highly fragmented, despotic and dis-functional Middle East, which has systematically frustrated benevolent Western efforts to introduce democracy, tolerance, stability and peaceful-coexistence into the Middle East.
In 2021, the well-armed Middle East is raging with a litany of armed conflicts, domestic and anti-Western terrorism and other forms of violence, which have yielded over 500,000 fatalities and close to 10 million refugees since 2011.
It features Iran (domestic repression and military and terroristic involvement in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, the Arabian Peninsula, the Horn of Africa, Central Asia, Latin America and Europe), Turkey (the key supporter of the transcontinental Muslim Brotherhood terrorism, and militarily involved in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Horn of Africa and the Persian Gulf); as well as Libya (internationalized civil war and global Islamic terrorism), Egypt (war on Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS terrorism) and Jordan (war on Muslim Brotherhood terrorism and explosive domestic conflicts). In addition, there are Lebanon (Islamic terrorism and low scale civil war), Syria (internationalized civil war and Islamic terrorism), Iraq (Islamic terrorism and internationalized civil war, while considering Kuwait its own Province 19), Yemen (internationalized civil war and Islamic terrorism), Qatar (financial supporter of Muslim Brotherhood terrorism and closely aligned with Iran and Turkey), Saudi Arabia (war on Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS and Shiite terrorism, as well as war on Iran-supported Yemen-Houthi terrorism), the UAE and Bahrain (war on Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS and Shiite terrorism), etc.
Fundamentals of inter-Arab relations
The geo-strategic background of the aforementioned domestic and regional wars and terrorism is analyzed by Prof. P.J. Vatikiotis, who was a leading Middle East historian at the School of Oriental and African studies, University of London (Arab and Regional Politics in the Middle East):
“Many Arab states are the fragmented successors of the Ottoman Empire, and subsequently of the British and French dominions in the Middle East. As such, they are riddled with obsessive and violent nationalism, and governed by unstable individuals or groups who invariably achieved power by force. Today, the survival of most of these rulers depends on… a tight and ruthless internal control of the armed forces, the security apparatus and the bureaucracy….
“Even without the Arab-Israel conflict, the Arab Middle East would have been a conflict-ridden and conflict-generating area. The aspirations and pretensions of Arab nationalism, with its visions of Pan-Arabism and Arab unity, would have clashed – as they did – with the interests of the several Arab states…. The lid on that cauldron was kept down by the presence of the new European hegemonies, Britain and France. Their withdrawal, or eviction, ushered in a new era of unstable, conflict-ridden inter-Arab relations…. Several of these Arab states contain within their territories large ethnic, tribal and sectarian minorities, which are, in most cases, economically deprived and politically underprivileged….
“That there can be instances of a convergence of interests among a number of Arab states over a particular issue, and therefore a common policy, cannot be denied…. [However] they must be seen in their proper perspective, not as the manifestation of an ideological or other phantasmagoric monolith…. Pan-Arabism and its variant of Arab unity are, for the time being, dead issues….
“[The Middle East Arab leaders and societies] are committed to a different scale of values, virtues and ethics, regardless of the imported [Western] secular rationalizations they may adumbrate for the commitment….
“The fundamental perception of a major confrontation between the Islamic and non-Islamic worlds aside, the Arab Middle East will continue to suffer the dissonance and conflict of local rivalries and differences between its several states, rulers, communities and factions as much in the Maghreb [Northwest Africa], as in the Fertile Crescent, the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt and the Gulf….
“The present political map of the Middle East may not be a permanent one….
“Arrangements are still made with rulers and regimes open to sedition and coups. This condition in itself renders relations between Arab states, as well as between them and external powers, especially difficult. Arab power remains vulnerable, though difficult to assess, and its potential effectiveness unpredictable….
“In the Arab Middle East, inter-Arab relations remain a labyrinth of intricate and often irreconcilable elements. In the past, as a rule, divisions, difference, and local conflicts were contained within and under an imperial arrangement. Today, in the absence of such an arrangement, local states which can dispose of wealth can generate more deadly conflict, dangerous not only to the region’s stability, but also to that of the rest of the world….”
Advice to the US
Upon introducing the Biden Administration’s Middle East policy, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan may consider the following advise by Prof. Vatikiotis:
“For the foreseeable future, inter-Arab differences and conflicts will continue…. This is a feature of the area that will remain more or less a constant. The question of American options is one that must first of all be resolved on the basis of this fundamental reality: inter-Arab relations cannot be placed on a spectrum of linear development, moving from hell to paradise or vice versa. Rather, their course is partly cyclical, partly jerkily spiral, and always resting occasionally at some grey area. American choices must be made on the assumption that what the Arabs want or desire is not always – if ever – what Americans desire. In fact, the two desires may be diametrically opposed and radically different…. (ibid, pp. 77-115)”
The location of the Middle East – between Europe, Asia and Africa and between the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Indian Ocean, Arab Sea and Persian Gulf – its oil and natural gas resources, and its role as an epicenter in the proliferation of global anti-Western Islamic terrorism, have made the Middle East critical to the national security and economy of the US and the Free World.