Tag Archives: Saudi Arabia

US plan to Isolate Iran

The resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri two weeks ago is an indicator of potential local escalation with Hezbollah and regional escalation with Iran. The expectation of imminent escalation with Hezbollah has existed for months, as the en…

The risk of political isolation

The ever dynamic geopolitics of the Middle East have been particularly fluid recently. Since the recent visit to Riyadh by President Trump, which included a summit and announcement of an anti-terrorism coalition, Saudi Arabia has positioned itself as the main political protagonist in the region.

If Saudi Arabia is serious about taking the initiative for real progressive reform within the Islamic world, then there is hope for change. However, it will not be easy, especially given the internal politics that the ruling class in Saudi is facing.

Separating the religious state and the nation state is the only real way to end the continuous official exploitation of religion. A clear division between the religious mandate as the custodian of the two holy mosques and the King of Saudi Arabia’s mandate as leader of the state is required. Religion must be depoliticized in order for an independent nation state in Saudi Arabia.

This would also mean that the Sunni Islam community would have a single interlocutor, who is also the custodian of the two holy mosques. This clear division could also create a clearer religious identity and legitimacy for the custodians.

In the meantime, we are also seeing normalization of relations between Israel and some Arab countries. The Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu has referred to this on two different occasions recently. Firstly he said that Israel is more interested in peace with Arab countries. Secondly, when he welcomed President Trump to Israel, he commented that he looks forward to the day when a plane could do the same route that President Trump did but directly go from Jerusalem to Riyadh, rather than having to route through a third country.

The increasing normalization of Israeli-Arab relations and the potential for an exclusive group representing the Sunni Muslim community, combined would have wider implications across the region and the world. In particular it could politically isolate some countries and reduce their influence.

Jordan is one of the countries that could be affected by these developments. Sovereignty over al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem could stir competition and rivalry among Muslim political system. We saw the potential for this in the recent issues as several groups claimed to have influenced the Israeli decision to reopen the mosque.

Jordan’s strategic geography has always been an advantage, but clever strategic thinking is required in order to leverage that advantage. Given recent developments, Jordan should be seeking a complete change in attitude, strategies and political decisions.

Jordan should seek to reengage with Iraq and Syria, as in any process of re building Syria, Damascus could be the lungs from which Jordan breathes. Jordan also needs to pivot to bolster its internal systems as true legitimacy comes from a strong internal political system. There is a real risk of increased weakening of the internal regime as a result of external factors like the Al Aqsa mosque.

It is important also to review how Israeli-Jordanian relations have deteriorated to this point. The Israeli Ambassador and entire staff have left Jordan, which is effectively an unofficial severing of diplomatic ties. Given the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, it is important to revise how both countries got to this point.

Jordan must focus and be smart enough to avoid the potential political isolation that could be a result of recent developments in the region.

Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh


Qatar crisis, where to?

A few months ago when Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries took a stand against Qatar, it was clear that the crisis is not a short term one. The countries involved have a long history of conflict with Qatar, including recent attempts to influence their policies.

While it is unlikely to be a short-term crisis, there is little suggestion of the potential for military escalation. Rather, it is more likely the next steps will be an escalation of economic and jurisdictional measures against Qatar.

In recent weeks the Qatari Foreign Minister has visited major global capital cities to speak with his counterparts who could influence international decision-making on the issue. The strategy is to demonstrate the Qatari willingness to negotiate on the key issues and to defend themselves against accusations of sponsoring and supporting terrorism.

Also under discussion is likely to have been the potential deepening of Qatari relations with Iran, which goes against the demands of the Gulf States. It is distinctly possible that this is already moving as indicated by events in Syria. Some believe that the recent progress of the Syrian Army and its allies on the ground are a result of the new Qatari position with Iran.

While relations with Iran are a useful political leverage point for Doha, it could easily backfire. Qatar’s strategy is heavily reliant on the US to step in to defend it; deeper relations with Iran are unlikely to lead down a path where the US protects it. Qatar has signed a MOU with the US to support the fight against terrorism; the current US administration may well interpret that to include Iran.

The US appears to be eager to contain the gulf crisis, despite the fact that the Trump administration’s containment plan for Iran is based on increasing pressure and isolation. As such, it will be interesting to watch how Doha pivots back to the US and distance itself from Iran in order to resolve the Gulf crisis.

Qatar’s other ally in Turkey is also struggling both in Syria and within its own borders. The US-Kurdish alliance is causing issues, enough for the Turkish President to publicly criticize its establishment quite bluntly, but to no avail. Internal Turkish politics are heating up with growth in support for opposition parties, internal fragmentation and increased security concerns.

What we are seeing is that Qatar’s two strongest supporters in the Gulf crisis in Iran and Turkey are unlikely to be able to maintain their positions in the longer term. Qatar’s best option is to position with the US as an impartial broker, however that will likely require Doha to accept a large part of the demands from its Gulf neighbors.

Dr. Amer AL Sabaileh

Qatar: When tolerance reaching its end

The roots of the tension between Qatar and other GCC countries go back several years to the Arab Spring. During this time, the GCC countries felt that Qatar was playing an active role in feeding the discontent, and the dispute was resolved with the transition of power of the Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani to his son Tamim in 2013.  As part of this transition, Qatar provided assurances of a shift in the role they played in the region.

The following year, the Gulf countries were not content with the progress and Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain all withdrew their ambassadors from Doha and called for similar sanctions that have been applied this week, including the cutting of diplomatic ties and closing all land, sea and air borders with the Gulf states.

The events of this week are the culmination of these tensions that have been playing out over the last four years. Qatar is accused of supporting extremism, which they have not made any effort to counter. In fact, Doha has undertaken aggressive media campaigns against Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia through the wide network of media outlets that they sponsor.

The issues with Qatar span the Arab world, as the impacts are felt across the region. The main players have tried over several years to promote change in Qatar, to no end. While it may appear reactionary, this process has been playing out for many years, and Qatar has not sufficiently responded to ease the tensions or address the concerns of their Arab neighbors.

This process of isolating Qatar is part of a systematic plan that is likely to attract international support. The move comes immediately following President Trump’s visit to Riyadh where he called for an Islamic coalition to fight terrorism and radicalism.

These developments place much greater pressure on Qatar to shift its policies and actions. The promises of the past are no longer going to be enough, and Qatar will need to provide concrete actions in order to avoid further complications for its relationships within the region and internationally, which will fundamentally impact on its economy.

From a Jordanian prospective, Jordan is fully aware of  the current situation and recognize that it is no longer a Gulf conflict, but one that impacts all Arabs. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt are key strategic allies for Jordan, so it was very logic for Jordan to consider a supportive position on this issue.

Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh


Visiting British PM’s message

May’s visit is important because it initiates a new phase of discrete UK polices in the Middle East. Aside from the international coalition which Jordan and UK are part of, a UK-Jordan initiative to counter the terror threats is in train. This bilateral understanding aims to develop new capabilities to strike ISIS targets by enhancing the capacities of the Jordanian Air Force.

It is also important that the British initiative includes a long-term cooperation that aims to improve countering violent extremism in the region. This is an integral issue for both Jordan and the UK. For the British it is important to address the sources of radicalization in the region, many of which have connections with radical members on their soil. Any de-radicalization process in Britain requires a measure of addressing the source of funding and training of terrorism in the Middle East.

Clearly it is also an essential issue to address for Jordan. Jordan requires concrete support in applying a more decisive process of de-radicalization. Indeed, Jordan needs to focus on accelerating the de-radicalization to counter their citizens who have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight, as well as those who are radicalized within its borders.

The Obama strategies that created a vacuum in Syria, which was eventually filled by Russia are being remedied and the lessons are being learned. During the visit, May also discussed ways in which the UK can assist Jordan to address the consequences of the Syrian conflict. Clearly the UK is taking steps to support Jordan and ensure a direct role in Syria and the rebuilding process.

We are also seeing the Trump administration seeking to protect its interest in Syria by engaging in Raqqa. The UK is seeking to maintain and build its presence in the Middle East in order to protect its interest. Jordan is strategically important for this, as it is central to Syria, Iraq and regional terrorism.

The symbolism of the visit during the post-Brexit transition demonstrates the shift in UK policies to secure UK interests. This may be the first step of a transition in strategy that London will adopt to guarantee its presence and interests in around the world.

Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh