In August 2019, the Yemen crises entered a new phase, essentially turning into a tripartite conflict. The forces of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) moved against the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi in an effort to restore the independence of South Yemen. By August 10, the STC’s units had captured Aden, having essentially forced representatives of the internationally recognized government out of the city. Later, on August 15, the STC announced its plans to establish an independent federative state in the south of Yemen. This was accompanied by pogroms and persecutions of northerners in Aden. Such developments are fraught not only with the spiralling of the Yemen crisis, but also with a possible clash between the principal parties of the anti-Houthi coalition: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Riyadh is counting on Hadi as the leader of a united country, while Abu Dhabi uses its STC proxies to create the conditions for splitting up the country, thus weakening the position of the pro-Saudi President.
The events that took place in the south of Yemen this past August can be viewed as a local civil war. Having captured the capital, the STC attempted to take control of Abyan and Shabwah, the governorates adjacent to Aden. The STC succeeded in rapidly taking over the military bases in Abyan. In Shabwah, however, they encountered resistance from forces loyal to Hadi. On August 22–25, the separatists were routed by the 21st Mechanized Infantry Brigade and began to retreat. By late August, the government forces had advanced on Aden but failed to capture the city largely due to the interference of the United Arab Emirates, whose air forces bombed troops loyal to Hadi in the Aden and Abyan governorates on August 29. Relative calm on the new front has followed ever since.
The Virtual Split of the Arab Coalition
Regional observers believe that, after the failure of the advance toward Al Hudaydah in 2018, the United Arab Emirates abandoned its plans to defeat the Houthis and instead turned its attention to establishing control of the coast in southern Yemen. At the same time, the United Arab Emirates is counting on the local separatists, with the Salaphites being a prominent group among them. The Salaphites are relatively well organized and have extensive ties with southern tribes. Additionally, they share a common enemy with the United Arab Emirates: the al-Islah Islamic party on which Saudi Arabia relies.
In the summer of 2019, the United Arab Emirates began to pointedly reduce its military presence in Yemen. The south was transferred to the control of the pro-UAE STC. This allowed the United Arab Emirates to solve several problems with one move: first, it reduced tensions in the country’s relations with Iran, which finances the Houthis; and second, it relieved the United Arab Emirates of its responsibility for the civilian casualties inflicted by the coalition’s airstrikes. The leadership of the United Arab Emirates try to present these actions as part of a long-term strategic plan. They insist that their policies in Yemen have from the outset been intended to establish local structures capable of resisting the Houthis. The STC is considered to be such a structure, which means that Hadi’s recognized government now needs to negotiate with the South. The STC itself claims it pursues following goals: to unite the south of Yemen and establishing a secular democratic state there; to prevent radical forces from becoming more active; and removing various armed units from cities and stabilizing the situation.
The problem is that in stepping up its activities, the STC delivered a serious blow to Saudi Arabia’s interests in Yemen. On the one hand, the weakness of the anti-Houthi coalition became even more obvious, as a civil war in its own right is going on behind the coalition’s battle lines. On the other hand, during any future talks, the Houthis will demand the same concessions that the STC will obtain from the Hadi government (if any). Thus far, representatives of the Hadi government are expected to declare that secession of the South is impermissible and suggest talks on federalizing Yemen.
Riyadh is in no hurry to make any concessions to the United Arab Emirates’ proxies and is busy flexing its muscles. For instance, against the background of clashes in Aden in the first half of August, Saudi Arabia succeeded in ensuring the inviolability of the Central Bank of Yemen and in preventing the national currency from crashing. Saudi’s military and armored vehicles took the building of the bank under their protection and kept the STC’s forces out. Riyadh also provided the Hadi government with 285 million Saudi riyals in financial aid, which are required primarily to import fuel.
The coalition partners are attempting to coordinate their activities, but discontent is growing. During an urgent meeting in Mecca on August 12 attended by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman on the Saudi side, and Crown Prince Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed on the UAE side, the attendees called upon Hadi and the STC to engage in dialogue. The Saudi monarch, however, did not squander the opportunity to demonstrate his “extreme irritation” with the actions of the allies, which regional observers took to be a very bad sign.
Southern Passions Running High
The strengthening of the STC began in 2017 when it gradually took control of Aden, Yemen’s provisional capital. For a short time in January 2018, STC forces managed to take control of government agencies and even placed members of the government under house arrest. But the situation changed when Saudi Arabia got involved. Nevertheless, the course for secession had become obvious, especially since southerners had started to search actively for international support.
The STC was unable to achieve a quick triumph in August 2019 because the south of Yemen is, in fact, far from united. The differences go back to the times when that part of the country was independent and socialist. Back in 1980, the elites of the Lahij and Abyan governorates competed for control of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. That confrontation resulted in the short-lived South Yemen Civil War in 1986 and the massacre of Aden, where natives of the Abyan Governorate were defeated. Some of them fled North, to the city of Sanaa.
Currently, the STC relies on the natives of the Dhale and Lahij governorates, while the Abyan and Shabwah governorates support the Hadi government. The current president hails from Abyan, and the loyalty of the local tribes is unquestionable. Shabwah is not interested in the secession of the South, since its economy is oriented towards the “northern” Marib Governorate, as it hopes to receive dividends from the transit of oil and gas.
The Hadhramaut and Al Mahrah governorates are taking a “wait-and-see” attitude; however, the local elites are reportedly displeased with the claims of the United Arab Emirates and its proxies to dominance. Al Mahrah has rather strong pro-Saudi leanings, and in August, it openly called for the prevention of an invasion by STC forces.
The military capabilities of the STC are thus limited, and following the failure of the August blitzkrieg, the Council will most likely have to enter into talks with the Hadists. Saudi Arabia is already trying to set up a dialogue between the Hadi government and the STC. Media reports said that the first indirect contacts took place on September 4 in Jeddah.
The “Zero=Sum Game” is Over
While the Arab coalition is facing internal problems in the South, its Ansar Allah opponents (Houthis) have taken the opportunity to put additional pressure on their main adversary, Saudi Arabia. On September 14, with the help of drones and missiles, they delivered a strike against two large oil processing facilities in Saudi Arabia, which forced Riyadh to cut oil production by more than half – 5.7 million barrels per day fewer than the usual 9.8 million barrels.
Despite the wave of accusations against Iran following the strikes, there is reason to believe that the Houthis are capable of organizing such an attack all on their own since they had previously shown cruise missiles with the necessary range to the public. However, in all fairness, we should note that experts identified them as radically simplified knock-offs of Iranian cruise missiles. Debates about the military capabilities of the Houthis are likely to continue, but some conclusions can be drawn. The war in Yemen costs Saudi Arabia dearly, both economically and in terms of its public image. Saudi Arabia is also clearly vulnerable to new attacks, despite enormous military spending and assistance from the United States. The media has added fuel to the fire by suggesting that it will take Riyadh between several months and a year to bring oil production to its previous levels.
Consequently, while Saudi Arabia could previously afford to ignore the occasional missile and drone from Yemen and continue bombing the adversary using its own aviation, now, instead of a zero-sum game, it has an asymmetric conflict on its hands with very unpleasant consequences. However, there is a way out of this predicament. A week after the strike against the oil refinery, Houthis proposed a ceasefire of sorts to Riyadh: they would cease missile strikes in exchange for the Saudi’s stopping their air raids.
A New Scenario for the Yemeni Drama
There are three possible courses of action from the point of view of the general development of the Yemeni crisis. The first scenario involves acknowledging that a military solution is impossible and launching talks with Houthis. The second is to stop counting on Hadi and his ineffective government, which does not enjoy broad support in Yemen, and find a new force that can defeat the Houthis and the Islamists and unite Yemen. Finally, the third option is controlled chaos, that is, the continuation of the war against Ansar Allah while at the same time ensuring that the instability is contained to Yemen.
From 2015 until now, the coalition has been pursuing the third course, that of controlled chaos. However, with the separatist movement stepping up its activities in the South (and the United Arab Emirates’ de facto withdrawal from the war) and the coalition’s increasingly obvious inability win a military victory over the Houthis may make other scenarios relevant as well.
As we have shown above, a compromise with Ansar Allah is the most apparent solution. In this case, further developments of the situation in Yemen will depend primarily on whether the dialogue between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia is productive. The Houthis have long been trying to get Riyadh to enter into direct talks with them, and they have been pressuring Saudi Arabia into doing so by regularly attacking cities and infrastructure facilities in the country. Riyadh, however, is standing its ground and is not going agree to anything except the actual surrender of its opponents, which it believes to be puppets of Iran. If the Saudi leadership, as a matter of principle, decides to continue armed hostilities, then it may follow the course of forming another government to replace that of Hadi. However, it will then run into inevitable difficulties finding alternative leaders and ensuring their international recognition. This process will take a lot of time, which means that the war will go on.
The Yemen crisis is entering a new phase. There are three competing scenarios for the future of the country: a Houthi “Islamic republic”; splitting Yemen into North and South; and a federative state headed by a reshuffled government. The latter appears to be in the best interests of the Yemeni people, as it offers hope for a relatively quick settlement of the conflict and the preservation of a unified state. If Riyadh agrees to a constructive dialogue with the STC and Houthis, then federalization may have a chance. Thus far, however, the Saudi leadership has taken a tough stance and refuses to make significant concessions to either the Houthis in Ansar Allah or the southerners represented by the STC. If the current trend persists, the civil war should be expected to continue on several fronts at once, and Yemen will likely collapse slowly.
From our partner RIAC
Public opinion surveys challenge the image Arab leaders like to project
Several recent public opinion surveys send a mixed message to autocratic reformers in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, which hosts this year’s World Cup in less than two months.
The surveys reveal contradictory attitudes among Arab youth towards religion as well as widespread rejection of notions of a moderate Islam and formal diplomatic ties with Israel.
One survey, published this week by Dubai-based public relations agency ASDA’A BCW, revealed that 41 per cent of 3,400 young Arabs in 17 Arab countries aged 18 to 24 said religion was the most important element of their identity, with nationality, family and/or tribe, Arab heritage, and gender lagging far behind. That is 7 per cent more than those surveyed in the agency’s 2021 poll.
More than half of those surveyed, 56 per cent, said their country’s legal system should be based on the Shariah or Islamic law.
Seventy per cent expressed concern about the loss of traditional values and culture. Sixty-five per cent argued that preserving their religious and cultural identity was more important than creating a globalized society.
Autocratic Arab reformers will take heart from the discomfort with the role of religion and skepticism towards religious authority that stroked with earlier surveys by ASDA’A BCW, which has conducted the poll annually for the past 14 years.
Even so, the greater emphasis on religion as the core pillar of identity, concern about traditional values and culture, and the call for Islamic law cast a shadow over social reforms introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia and President Mohammed bin Zayed in the UAE.
Moreover, the poll results were published as Qatar debates how to deal with potential conduct by World Cup fans that violates Qatari law and mores, such as public intoxication and expressions of affection, pre-marital sex, and sexual diversity.
Qatar has suggested that World Cup fans caught committing minor offences such as public drunkenness would escape prosecution under plans under development by authorities.
While Saudi Arabia’s rupture with religious ultra-conservatism that long was the kingdom’s hallmark was stunning, reforms in the UAE were the most radical in their break with Islamic law that constitutionally constitutes the principal source of the country’s legislation.
Mr. Bin Salman’s reforms severely restricted the authority of the religious police, lifted the kingdom’s ban on women’s driving, enhanced women’s rights and opportunities, loosened gender segregation, and introduced western-style entertainment – all measures that are essentially not controversial in much of the Muslim world but went against the grain of the kingdom’s ultra-conservative segment of the population and clergy.
That could not be said for Mr. Bin Zayed’s equally far-reaching changes that decriminalized sexual relations out of marriage and alcohol consumption for UAE nationals and foreigners and lifted the prohibition on living together for unmarried couples.
Mr. Bin Zayed’s reforms are expected to persuade some fans to base themselves in the UAE during the World Cup and travel for matches to Qatar, which is socially more restrictive.
Even so, the ASDA’A BCW survey suggests that the reforms in the kingdom and the Emirates may not have been embraced as enthusiastically by a significant segment of the youth as the two countries would like public opinion to believe.
Separate surveys by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy showed that 59 per cent of those polled in the UAE, 58 percent in Saudi Arabia, and 74 per cent in Egypt, disagreed with the notion that “we should listen to those among us who are trying to interpret Islam in a more moderate, tolerant, and modern way.”
The youth’s quest for religion and traditionalism strokes with youth attitudes toward democracy and diplomatic relations with Israel.
Autocratic leaders will likely be encouraged by the fact that a whopping 82 per cent of those surveyed by ASDA’s BCW said stability was more important than democracy. At the same time, two-thirds believed democracy would never work in the Middle East.
Three quarters saw China, followed by Turkey and Russia as their allies, as opposed to only 63 per cent pointing to the United States and 12 per cent to Israel. Even so, they viewed the US as having the most influence in the Middle East, but a majority favoured US disengagement.
Yet, the United States and Europe continued to constitute preferred destinations among 45 per cent of those polled seeking to emigrate.
However, despite widespread skepticism towards democracy, leaders will also have noted that 60 per cent expressed concern about the increased role of government in their lives.
The establishment two years ago of diplomatic relations with Israel by four countries included in the ASDA’A BCW survey — the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan, — and the fact that Saudi Arabia has become more public about its relations with the Jewish state and its desire to establish diplomatic ties once a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is found is likely to have shaped responses in the surveys.
Aware of public hesitancy, Saudi Arabia, together with the Arab League and the European Union, this week convened a meeting in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly to explore ways of dusting off the 1982 Saudi-inspired Arab peace plan.
The plan offered Israel recognition and diplomatic relations in exchange for creating a Palestinian state in territories occupied by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war.
For his part, Yair Lapid expressed support for a two-state solution in his address to the assembly. It was the first time Mr. Lapid backed two states since he became prime minister and the first time since 2017 that an Israeli prime minister spoke in favour of Palestinian statehood.
Nevertheless, only 14% of the Egyptians polled in the Washington Institute surveys viewed their country’s 43-year-old peace treaty with Israel and the more recent establishment of diplomatic relations with the Jewish state by the UAE and others as positive.
In contrast to the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco, where Israeli business people, tourists, and residents have been welcomed, only 11 per cent of Egyptians surveyed favoured the normalisation of people-to-people relations.
Similarly, 57 per cent of Saudis surveyed by the institute opposed the normalization of the kingdom’s relations with Israel. Still, a higher percentage in the kingdom and the UAE than in Egypt, 42 per cent, agreed that “people who want to have business or sports contacts with Israelis should be allowed to do so.”
To sum it all up, the message is that autocratic reformers appear to be far ahead of significant segments of their populations even if public attitudes may be contradictory.
For now, keeping the lid on freedom of expression and dissent helps them maintain their grip but casts a shadow and a doubt over the image they work so hard to project.
Middle Eastern Geopolitics in The Midst of The Russo-Ukrainian War
Russia’s national interests have been harmed by the West’s efforts to obstruct Eurasia’s integration and provoke conflict. Support from the United States and the European Union for Ukraine’s anti-constitutional coup d’état sparked a societal upheaval and a bloody conflict. Right-wing nationalist ideology is getting more and more popular, Russia is being painted as an enemy in Ukrainian society, the violent resolution of internal problems is being gambled on, and a profound socioeconomic catastrophe is making Ukraine a chronic centre of instability in Europe and along Russia’s border.
US military-biological labs in Russia’s neighbours are being expanded. There are four ways Russia utilizes to keep the world safe: political, legal, diplomatic, and military. To protect national interests, armed force can be employed only after all other options have failed.
NATO has effectively rendered Russia’s Black Sea control worthless in terms of gaining access to warm water. “Irresponsible” would be a better word to describe Ukraine’s attempt to join NATO. Russia’s Eurasian aspirations are jeopardized by Ukraine’s proclivity for self-determination. From Ukraine to Abkhazia, Russia seeks to control the northern Black Sea coast and to turn it under its sovereignty. For Russia, it is necessary to remove Western influence from this region and Russia’s immediate surroundings. However, it is impossible for Ukraine to remain “neutral” because of its geopolitical and ethnic realities.
Russia’s geopolitical security is threatened by Ukraine’s borders and sovereign orientations, which are equivalent to invading Russia’s land. Eastern Ukraine (east of the Dnieper River to the Sea of Azov) is inhabited by Great Russians and Orthodox Little Russians, whereas the rest of the country is controlled by Ukrainians. Anti-Russian sentiment runs deep in Crimea, a region with a wide range of nationalities (such as the Tatars). Crimea is under Moscow’s authority for strategic reasons. From Chernigov to Odessa, an area has cultural ties to Eastern Ukraine and a place in the Eurasian geopolitical context.
The Eurasian core (Russia) and the European core (Germany) should work together to complete the long-term disengagement between Europe and the United States by forming a Eurasian continental military complex.
Russian intervention in Ukraine is urgent in order to avert an attack by NATO. The foregoing suggests that Russia’s policy of severing all ties with Western security systems in the vital territory directly adjacent to Russia is being carried out in Ukraine. The only way to achieve this aim peacefully is to use force.
There are two main actors engaged in this conflict; the Russian Federation (the official heir to the USSR) and the United States, which is slipping in several soft and hard power indicators. Paul Kennedy saw imperial overstretch as a precursor to strategic decline for the United States, while Richard Barnet predicted decline for the United States in the 1980s. Flora Lewis’ research, published a year after Paul Kennedy’s, confirmed the fall of the United States. It was prophesied by James Schlesinger that the United States will lose both its economic and military power. Peter Passell and Tom Wicker argued that the United States has lost its economic and scientific leadership to Japan because of its dependence on foreign sources of raw resources and energy.
According to Niall Ferguson’s 2004 study on US diclinism, the United States wants to expand free markets, the rule of law, and representative government around the world, but it is unwilling to make the long-term investments in human capital and financial resources necessary to end conflict resulting from state inefficiency. When it comes to internal weaknesses like financial deficits and people power, as well as ignoring global responsibilities, he thinks that the United States is a failing empire that refuses to accept its own demise. “Terrorist” groups and organized crime gangs will fill the void, he predicts. Ferguson sees this as a strong endorsement of the US-China-European partnership.
Biden should not threaten China and should treat Russia as a serious power in Eurasia, as argued by one of the most anti-EU thinkers in the United States, Francis Ferguson, Jr. An analysis conducted by the US National Intelligence Council in 2008 predicted that the international system would become more multipolar due to the emergence of new major powers, the continuation of economic globalization, the transfer of wealth from the West to the East, and the expansion of sub-state and supra-state entities.
According to the report, by 2025, there would be less disparities between regions and governments in the international system. In order to avoid further collapse in Russia’s interior and to enlarge Russia’s critical space, each empire looks to exploit geostrategic territories. NATO’s laxity has made it easier for the other empire (the United States) to halt its collapse and strengthen relations with Europe.
All of the foregoing has an impact on the Middle East, particularly on the Arab region. The Middle East is no longer a priority for US policy, according to President Joe Biden’s strategic plan. Some countries in the region have attempted to compensate for the loss of the United States by forging ties with Israel to counter internal opposition and strengthen the anti-Iran coalition.
It is possible that the Ukraine issue could divert American attention away from the Middle East in the next months, which could have an impact on Arab relations with Israel, Iran and Turkey. Because of the lack of response from the Middle East in response to US demands about the Ukrainian issue (blockade of Russia, military support for Ukraine, increased gas and oil production, etc.), there has been a “relative” shift in the region’s position in US strategy.
Currently, there are many thorny issues in the Middle East, including: Russia’s policy in the Arab region is hampered by its inability to overcome regional power imbalances. Russian, Iranian and Israeli differences. Reconciling Iran with Gulf States and a number of Arab nations. Reconciling the security needs of Israel and Syria. Israeli demands vs. Russian pledges on Palestinian rights.
The trade volume differential between Russia and the Arab region just adds to the complexity of these political issues already in existence. Over the previous three years, Russian trade with the Arab world has averaged $18 billion each year. One group of Arab countries imports Russian civilian goods, such as wheat and iron, whereas the other group imports Russian military equipment. Russia exports civilian goods to Egypt, Morocco, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Jordan, and Qatar. After Syria, Algeria (81 percent), Iraq (44 percent), Egypt (41%), and the United Arab Emirates (5.3%), Russian arms sales to Arab countries account for 21 percent of Russia’s overall sales, or $5 billion yearly, making them the top five countries acquiring Russian weaponry.
It’s not uncommon for relations between Arab countries that acquire Russian civilian items and those that import Russian military hardware to be strained. In the near future (within the next five years), when Russia’s global economic embargo will cover more civilian items than military ones, it will be difficult for Russia to limit the influence of Arab disputes on its relations with all Arab countries.
Due to its military-to-civilian trade imbalance, Russia may have to reassess its regional priorities. Relations between the Arab world and Russia could take a dramatic turn in the near future. Russia’s trade with Israel ($3.5 billion) and Iran ($777 million) is impossible to compare. Even in light of the boycott, Russia’s relations with Iran and Israel will be problematic.
Creating Building Blocks for Cooperative Security in the Middle East
Fading hopes for a revival of the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program potentially puts one more nail in the coffin of a regional security architecture that would include rather than target the Islamic republic.
The potential demise of the nuclear agreement, coupled with America redefining its commitment to Middle Eastern security as it concentrates on rivalry with Russia and China, spotlights the need for a regional security forum that would facilitate confidence-building measures, including common approaches to transnational threats such as climate change, food security, maritime security, migration, and public health.
Mitigating in favour of a firmer grounding of the reduction of regional tension is the fact that it is driven not only by economic factors such as the economic transition in the Gulf and the economic crisis in Turkey, Iran, and Egypt but also by big-power geopolitics.
China and Russia have spelled out that they would entertain the possibility of greater engagement in regional security if Middle Eastern players take greater responsibility for managing regional conflicts, reducing tensions, and their own defense.
Rhetoric aside, that is not different from what the United States, the provider of the Middle East’s security umbrella, is looking for in its attempts to rejigger its commitment to security in the Gulf.
In addition to the emerging, albeit tentative, unspoken, macro-level big power consensus on a more inclusive, multilateral approach, efforts by the major regional powers – Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey, Israel, and Iran, except for as it regards ties between the Jewish state and the Islamic republics — to reduce tensions and put relations on a more even keel, contribute to an environment potentially conducive to discussion of a more broad-based security architecture.
The need to focus on conflict prevention and improved communication between regional rivals alongside more robust defense cooperation is evident irrespective of whether the Iran nuclear accord is brought back from the dead, given that the covert war between Israel and Iran will continue no matter what happens.
Israeli officials this month warned that an Israel airstrike against Syria’s Aleppo airport was a warning to President Bashar al-Assad that his country’s air transport infrastructure would be at risk if he continues to allow “planes whose purpose is to encourage terrorism to land,” a reference to flights operated on behalf of the Iranian military and Revolutionary Guards.
Even so, the Biden administration remains focused on broadening responsibility for a regional security architecture that targets Iran rather than an inclusive structure that would give all parties a stake, seek to address root problems, and stymie an evolving arms race.
The administration has encouraged security cooperation between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, the two Arab states that two years ago established diplomatic relations with Israel, and Saudi Arabia, which has changed its long-standing hostile attitudes towards the Jewish state but refuses to formalise relations in the absence of a resolution of the Palestinian problem.
The year’s move of Israel from the US military’s European to its Central Command (CENTCOM) that covers the Middle East facilitates coordination between regional militaries. In a first, Israel this year participated in a US-led naval exercise alongside Saudi Arabia, Oman, Comoros, Djibouti, Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan, countries with which it has no diplomatic relations, as well as the UAE and Bahrain.
In March, top military officers from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and Egypt met in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh to discuss the contours of potential military cooperation.
Similarly, the US, the UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia are attempting to create a regional air defense alliance. In June, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz claimed the partnership had already thwarted Iranian attacks.
Similarly, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel are working on a fleet of naval drones to monitor Gulf waters and ward off Iranian threats.
Furthermore, CENTCOM plans to open a testing facility in Saudi Arabia to develop and assess integrated air and missile defense capabilities.
Scholar Dalia Dassa Kaye argues that focusing on confidence-building aspects of cooperative security involving a dialogue that aims to find common ground to prevent or mitigate conflict rather than collective security that seeks to counter a specific threat is one way of breaking the Middle East’s vicious circle.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) patchwork of security structures, alliances between external powers and individual association members, and inclusive regional forums demonstrate that the two security approaches are not mutually exclusive.
The ASEAN model also suggests that, at least initially, a less centralized and institutionalized approach may be the best way to kickstart moves towards regional cooperative security in the Middle East.
Negotiating an agreement on principles guiding regional conduct on the back of exchanges between scholars, experts, and analysts, as well as informal, unofficial encounters of officials, could be a first step.
To be sure, Iran’s refusal to recognize Israel and its perceived goal of destroying the Jewish state likely constitutes the foremost obstacle to initiating an inclusive, cooperative security process.
The carrot for Iran will have to be credible assurances that the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel will not pursue regime change in Tehran and recognize that Iran’s security concerns are as legitimate as those of others in the region. However, even that could prove to be a tall order, particularly if the negotiations to revive the nuclear accord fail.
Nevertheless, that may be the only realistic way of putting Iran’s support for militants in various Arab countries, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah Shiite militia, various pro-Iranian paramilitary groups in Iraq, and Houthi rebels in Yemen, as well as the Islamic republic’s ballistic missiles program – the two major concerns of Israel and the Gulf states — on an agenda to which Iran is a participating party.
Ms. Kaye argues that “despite these serious obstacles, it is important to present a vision and pathway for an inclusive, cooperative process when a political opening emerges, or when a crisis erupts of such severe magnitude that even bitter adversaries may consider options that were previously unthinkable.”
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