The Middle East has been the molten core of the world when it comes to conflicts and complexities. The yesteryear witnessed a series of events that were hard to even fathom a few years back. As the world awaits the new president elect of the United States to assume power, the direct relation to the power exchange casts a dangerous hue of regional conflicts and instability over the Gulf countries. Whether it comes to changes in policies, regional alliances or inter-region animosity, the year ahead holds a lot of judgement; both prospects and consequences alike, that could change the Middle east as we know of today.
The major and foremost change is in the stance of the collective Arab nations that continues to ripple away from a pro-Palestinian to an Israeli perspective. The region is a classic example of the paradigm shift in the global politics, right before welcoming the new head of state in the world superpower. The nations, stout Muslim countries in fact, who stood strong as the exemplar enemies of the Jewish state for decades are now the proponents of normalisation of diplomacy and absolute integration. The state they once accused of being illegitimate and outright a preposterous scheme of the West, now seems like a vital link to their harmony with the United States.
However, this stark shift of perspective is neither novel nor abrupt since the button to normalisation was long pressed by Egypt and Jordan decades ago despite being the flag bearer to four wars against Israel since its independence. The baton was picked again by UAE, then Morocco and recent down in tally came Sudan; each welcoming diplomatic ties while leaving no choice for the proximal states but to eventually curb under peer pressure. The classic narrative used is the very cliched fear of Iran’s growing influence in the region and thus a simultaneous need of a US sponsored ally. So was the subliminal drive under Mr. Trump who even under his faltering premiership made it very clear through his purported ‘Deal of the Century’; an alternative to the 2-state solution of Israel and Palestine conflict. The irony is not lost in the purview of the current reality. The very coalition of Arab countries rebuked the deal as a sham yet within that year jumped the bandwagon to normalisation.
Even the Saudi Kingdom took the historic step of acquiescing to open its airspace to the state of Israel, hours before the first flight scheduled to transit through the kingdom to UAE. It’s as coherent as it gets in politics that Saudis continue to lose control of the regional powerplay. The kingdom no longer holds the steering to the Gulf affairs but rather finds itself isolated in a region it once commanded. Abandoned enough to consider reconciliation with the severed state of Qatar.
The brutally driven campaign, ultimatums placed, and citizens derived out of state; Qatar was subjected to a political boycott three years ago, snubbed like never before by none other than the quartet of Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia. Qatar’s economy derailed, trade dismantled, and diaspora stranded over borders in chaos and fear. The state of Qatar got back on its own, relied on Iran and Turkey yet proved to be completely independent without grovelling to any of Arab nations. Now alone in the power game, the tables have turned since Qatar no longer finds itself in recluse whereas Saudi Arabia perpetually loses hope and thus pursues its severed ally again. As of the second week of the new year, all borders including land, air and sea routes were opened to the state as Prince Mohammad Bin Salman seeks to administer himself in the good books of the incumbent US president, Joe Biden. Qatar, however, made sure that the resumption of bilateral relations would solely be for the sake of collective sovereignty and regional interest and would not skew the relations of Doha with other regional allies. The insinuation is quite straightforward since the only ties bitter to the kingdom, and the rudimentary reason behind the infamous Qatar crisis, are the relations shared with Islamic Republic of Iran. The message is clear: the bilateral relations would be geared at the whims of Qatar and not the other way around.
Meanwhile, the intentions of Iran have not been entirely inconspicuous to even a subtle extent. Whilst Tehran assured alignment to the policies of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), their actions have not spared the intent guiding their arching purpose. After the recent expiration of the Nuclear Deal 2015, Iran started to act on its primal vision to evolve into a global supplier of weaponry in spite of pilling sanctions from US. The assassination of Iran’s renowned nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, sowed another seed of retribution since the controversial assassination of Iran’s General, Qassim Soleimani. The retaliation came about in the form of a sinister increase in Iran’s Uranium Enrichment Exercises; culminating the capabilities to a colossal 20%; a sharp hike from the bellow 5% level maintained under the clauses of the Nuclear Deal 2015.
The Biden administration looks forward to reviving the Nuclear Deal with Iran, the deal Mr. Trump pulled US out of so abruptly back in 2018. Iran, however, made its looming decision crystal clear that despite being open to resolutions in exchange of loosening sanctions, Iran outright rejects any prospects to re-negotiate the same Nuclear Deal again. The warnings to US, claims of revenge ascended to new heights when Iran’s revolutionary guards arguably ceased a South Korean-flagged tanker in the regional waters. Whilst the accusations of hostages being held were rejected by the spokespersons of Iran, it stands apparent that the countries siding too closely to US agenda are on Iran’s metaphorical list of retribution. The message is clear since South Korea allegedly holds funds culminating to $7 billion in exchequer, blocked in the light of US-placed sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran ultimately leading Seoul to freeze the payments owed to Iranian Exporters, thus inciting this recent broil.
The changing dynamics and priorities of the region justify both the fears and the subsequent efforts of Saudi Arabia to cling onto one state or the other and inch closer to reignite an alliance with US. As Israel continues to sink its claws in the Gulf, Palestine continues to barrel down in significance, and US-Iran head towards historic ties; the Middle east might turn up to be entirely alien in the near future.