by Salman Rafi Sheikh, with New Eastern Outlook, Moscow, …and the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, a research institution for the study of the countries and cultures of Asia and North Africa.
[ Editor’s Note: The shifting sands in the Mideast have once again brought up discussion of a new alignment, despite it being a region where alignments can be a short to mid term arrangement, but rarely a long term solution to anything.
Mr. Sheikh poses that Iran and Turkey will combine with little Qatar to blunt the new Israeli UAE, Qatar axis. The latter has lots of money, but there is little it can do militarily.
Iran is stretched, bleeding forces and hi-tech supplies into Syria to be blown up by continuing airstrikes. The UAE is getting F-35s from the US, but Israel is unhappy about that. Why should it be? In some universe, does it plan to drop a mini nuke on Israel like Israel did on Beirut?
Turkey is broke, with its army in low intensity conflict in NW Iraq, all along the Syrian Kurdish border, in Idlib, and then off to Libya, where most of their muscle is throwaway jihadis recruited out of the refugee camps in Turkey.
Turkey bought its entire S-400 missile system on credit, and new threatened sanctions on Russia might kill its planned pipeline into Southern Europe. The anticipated transport fees over Turkey could have been bartered to pay for the missile system, but they might go up in smoke.
Erdogan faked talks with Greece over oil and gas exploration rights, dodging an EU sanctions bullet, only to redeploy its seismic testing ship to hunt for more reserves.
Any deal with Turkey is only a short term fix until Erdogan figures a new angle.
I was surprised to see Rafi Sheikh leave out any mention of Iraq in the shifting Mideast lineup. Sure, Iraq has limited military power for expedition use and no Air Force without the US to maintain it, but Iraq provides a secure line of transport between Iran and Syria.
The US forces are making a move to formally take all of the northeastern and eastern parts of Syria with its oil and water resources and food production to strangle any hope of a Syrian government and people recovering control of their economy.
This aggressive US move saw Russia playing a new card this week regarding the US arms embargo on Iran, saying that since it is already under US sanctions, it is open to deploying S-57 fighters and S-400 and S-500 missile systems to Iran. The US has been completely silent over that news.
Chaos reigns in the region, where one major misstep can trigger a war which all will regret, other than those participants that are out of range… Jim W. Dean ]
– First published … September 23, 2020 –
If violence begets violence, alliance produces a counter-alliance. The UAE-Bahrain-Israel agreements, called Abraham Accords, marks the beginning of an unholy alliance that aims to bring a decisive shift in the geo-political chessboard of the Middle East, allowing the UAE to increasingly project itself as the new ‘ring leader’ of the Gulf and making Israel the new security overlord, replacing the US.
Whereas the UAE’s move comes against the backdrop of its own search for regional dominance in the wake of declining Saudi clout, there is no gainsaying that the real locus of regional rivalry in the Middle East lies in Iran’s and Turkey’s own ambitions, pitting both the non-Arab states against their powerful Arab allies and their common enemy, Israel.
Since the Abraham Accords aim significantly to cut directly at the increasing influence of both Iran (in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen) and Turkey (in Syria, Iraq, Libya, the Mediterranean), a potential counter-alliance involving Iran, Turkey and even Qatar becomes a logical off-shoot.
This counter-alliance will not only be the new champion of the Palestinian cause, but also configure its relations in ways that would allow them to resist Israel’s stronger foothold in the region as well Gul-Arab hegemony.
As it stands, the Palestinians are already actively encouraging such an alliance. In a recent interview with Tehran Times, Khaled Al-Qaddoumi, the Hamas representative in Tehran said that the three countries, who are already benefiting from trade agreements need to establish a common political vision to counter the common enemy.
If the Abraham Accords have brought forth new forces and changed regional landscape, there is no to little denying that Turkey and Iran, already vying for power vis-à-vis the UAE and Saudia, will see merit in forming an alliances to prevent the UAE-Israel alignment from gaining game-changing strategic momentum in the years ahead.
Raw material for such an alliance already exists. Turkey and Iran have deep economic ties. Whereas Tehran already supplies Turkey with energy—oil & gas—leaders of the countries recently met in a virtual event of High-Level Cooperation Council and vowed to increase their bi-lateral trade, taking it up to an ambitious volume of US $30 billion. The joint declaration issued at the end of the event outlined the areas of cooperation, including Syria, Kurds and the Abraham Accords.
Not only did the statement call out the Accords an effort to “undermine the Palestinian question”, but also called for a two-state solution to the decades long conflict.
Their mutual interests tend to converge when it comes to tackling Kurds. The joint statement fully emphasized that “PKK/PJAK and all terrorist organizations in the region pose a common threat against the security of both Turkey and Iran” and “that it is incumbent upon both countries to fully utilize the existing cooperation mechanisms against the activities of PKK/PJAK elements and the other terrorist organizations along the common borders.”
The joint statement received Erdogan’s endorsement in a separate statement when he said that “Turkey and Iran dialogue has a decisive role in the solution of many regional problems.”
For Rouhani, who clearly seemed to see Turkey and Iran as the two targets of Arab-alliance with Israel, “Turkey and Iran are the two great powers of the region. There was hostility and vindictiveness towards both countries. It also exists today. There is no way to be successful against such conspiracies other than by reinforcing friendly relations between the two countries.”
While there is no doubt that both Iran and Turkey have competed each for centuries, both of them have, in recent years, come across a number of reasons to compartmentalize their rivalry and make the most out of tactical convergence over a range of issues that the new regional realities offer.
This is particularly so when it comes to challenging the hegemony of Gulf-Arab states. They were able to come together when Arab states, led by Saudia and the UAE, had decided to impose a blockade on Qatar in 2017.
Both Iran and Turkey took significant steps to neutralize the impact of this blockade; hence, the high possibility of Qatar’s inclusion in the Turkey-Iran counter-alliance. Qatar, while a Gulf-Arab state, has its own reasons to forge an alliance. What adds to the reasons is its own position on the Abraham Accords.
“We don’t think that normalisation was the core of this conflict and hence it can’t be the answer,” Lolwah al-Khater, Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesperson said on Monday in an interview with Bloomberg.
While it may be too early to predict what this counter-alliance will actually look like and whether it will become official or not, there is no gainsaying that strong reasons for this alliance do exist and all of these countries are already leaving traces to be picked up by their rivals.
As such, while Iran is already involved in a long-drawn power struggle vis-à-vis Gulf-Arab states and Israel, Turkey, too, is incensed, as it is already embroiled in a proxy war with the UAE in Libya and Syria. Turkish officials have accused the UAE of financial and logistical support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in northeastern Syria. Ankara and Abu Dhabi have also clashed over Qatar.
In other words, while, much like Iran-Israel relations, there is no love lost between Turkey and the UAE and Turkey and Israel, there do exist ample reasons for Iran, Turkey and Qatar to capitalize on the new momentum for counter-alliances generated by the powerful geo-political forces that Abraham Accords have let loose in the Middle East.
Indeed, the three countries appear to be moving in the same direction.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.
Jim W. Dean Archives 2009-2014