Monthly Archives: September 2017

Russia in the Middle East

Over the last few years, the Middle East has started to witness the presence of new political protagonists, Russia as a very strong evident player, Germany a strong but latent player, and China as a strong economic power.

Russia has played a role in most of the major issues in the Middle East. Since their entry into the Syrian crisis, we have seen analysts incorrectly predicting Russia’s next move through an apparent misinterpretation of their motives.

Many reported that Russia’s support of Syria was limited and unreliable. And yet, Syria has been the key to Russia’s successful engagement in the region and over recent years has proven reliable to its allies. Now, as Russia has become central to everything from regional security to the peace process, we must change our approach and recognize their influence and importance.

Russian diplomacy has been key to creating the potential for an end to the Syrian crisis. Critical to the shift in the Syria situation is changes in position from Turkey, US, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. It was Russian diplomacy that positioned each of these countries to shift.

There is now a unified effort to fight terrorism, and it is this unity that is opening political channels and building alliance. Given the success in Syria, Russia’s influence in the region is spreading. Russia is now allied to both Israel and Syria. Logically that positions them very well as a mediator. This could lead to greater support from countries like Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian authority to play a similar role in the Peace Process, as Russia creates a political equilibrium while the White House instinctively backs Israel.

Russia also has long standing good relations with Iran as well as positive and growing engagement with the Gulf Countries. These could very well position Russia for a central role in reconciling the issues around Yemen and potentially even Qatar. We have even seen Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visit Gulf countries several times lately, suggesting that while Syria might be Moscow’s priority at the moment, it is taking the opportunity to broaden friendships and position for continued importance down the track.

Regional geopolitics are fluid and dynamic, with new protagonists and shifting alliances. Russia’s presence and influence in the region is unlikely to remain limited to Syria, but rather the beginning of a long-term presence and power in the region.

Dr Amer Al Sabaileh

The path toward the regional settlements

Since the Astana negotiations the crisis in Syria has been on the path towards resolution. We have seen multiple factors working towards this resolution including the shift in Turkey’s position, the Russo-Turkish alliance and more recently the Gulf crisis and the rising Qatari-Saudi hostilities.

As the Qataris have positioned against Saudi Arabia, armed groups in Syria have lost financial and logistical support and as the Qatari Iranian rapprochement has developed, Syria and its allies have strengthened as Iran, Russia and Hezbollah have been draining the resistance in many areas across Syria.

As a major neighbor, Jordan has also begun to reposition as a result of these shifts. Stability in the south of Syria is a primary objective due to the direct link to stability and national security within Jordanian borders. In addition to security, from an economic and political perspective the stabilization and reopening of the border with Syria is a critical step in normalizing and rebuilding the Syrian state.

In parallel and of equal strategic importance for Jordan are efforts to reengage with Iraq and reopen that border. Broader regional developments have created new challenges on this front. Stability and security remains fragile, as does Jordan’s ability to build strong political ties. Additionally, the potential for renewed relations for Iraq with Saudi Arabia and the possibility of new border openings between them will be distracting and a higher priority for Iraq.

Given that regime change is no longer the priority in Syria and all of the key stakeholders have changed their narrative, resolution of the Syria issue and outlining a pathway to bring Syria back into the Arab League should become a priority. Egypt is in the box seat given that since the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood there, Egyptian-Syrian relations have been progressively improving.

While Saudi Arabia led the anti-Syria campaign in the region, they have cause to reconsider their position. They are seeking to disengage from conflict and crisis in Yemen and Syria as Qatar develops the upper hand in Syria and Iran encouraging the wasting of their resources in Yemen.

While Saudi Arabia has been quick to war and capable of building coalitions against shared enemies, the Minister of Defence, who has become the Crown Prince is transitioning to become King, which could very well result in a transition from war to peace.

Saudi Arabia has many great challenges to face in the coming generation and needs development and economic growth in order to face them. So while successfully waging war may have made him Crown Prince, stability and growth is the path to becoming King.

As a result, we may see a regional shift towards peace, social development and economic growth, things the Arab world greatly need.

Dr. Amer AL Sabaileh