“... And as soon as they light the fire for the war, Allah extinguishes it. They are zealous on the earth in order to [do] wickedness, but Allah does not love the wicked! ”
(Supe "Meal", 5: 64)
(Supe "Meal", 5: 64)
Several years ago, together with Oksana Vsevolodovna Milaeva and Gennady Ivanovich Glebov, I had the opportunity to work on a textbook on political science for students of our specialty PR and advertising. Since then, we have been constantly working in creative collaboration, although personally I am more attracted to castles and armor, and Oksana Vsevolodovna - Egypt and its pyramids. But, digging in antiquities, willy-nilly or not, we have to study modernity. After all, antiquity also interests us primarily to understand who we are, where and why we are going, and most importantly - why? So this work is one of the results of this creative collaboration.
The relevance of the Middle East policy for Russia is primarily connected with oil interests and not always simple relations with OPEC on the one hand. On the other hand, with the attempt to actualize the influential foreign policy agenda in the Middle East, which had been virtually absent for 20 years.
Jerusalem: Church of the Holy Sepulcher (in the distance). Sent by our reader "Warrior", for which he thanks a lot.
In the 2000s, destabilization again continued in the Middle East region after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in the 2003 year. At that moment, President George W. Bush launched a struggle with the countries that, in his opinion, constitute the “axis of evil,” stretching from Tehran, through Damascus to the Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas. The struggle not only did not bring him the expected results, but in a paradoxical way led to the strengthening of Iran’s position, which received tremendous leverage on post-Saddam’s Iraqi insurgency.
The situation was exacerbated by 2011's Arab Spring, which plunged the Middle East into chaos. Gradually, 7, coming out of political collapse in various ways, at the moment, key countries in the region as a whole demonstrate to some extent internal resilience, retain the capacity to respond to external challenges. The systemic changes of the 2016-17 years did not bring: powerful social explosions, revolutions, regime changes, and other systemic changes in the Middle Eastern political landscape were not observed. The special factor of influence of informal international actors and the many lines of division of a region of a sectoral nature between the Sunni and Shiite poles did not turn into regional wars.
A new player came to the region, who was not taken seriously for a long time because of the distance - China came. At the same time, China not only sharply increased the purchase of oil from the Gulf countries, but also voiced its political program in the Middle East on one of the most problematic issues. He intends to "purposefully defend the peace process in the Middle East and the creation of a fully independent sovereignty Palestinian state within the borders of 1967, with its capital in East Jerusalem." And if the League of Arab States is quite happy with this position of China, then Israel got a strong contender. However, in this respect - the rejection of a new participant in the game - for the first time Israel was in solidarity with a longtime enemy - Iran. Since the PRC actually acted on the side of Saudi Arabia over the civil war in Yemen and supported the Sunnis, which runs counter to the interests of Tehran.
The main problem of the region has not been resolved. In the space from the Mediterranean coast of North Africa to the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan there remains a fundamental shortage of established states on the political map of the Greater Middle East. For the international community and border areas, this is fraught with a further increase in the threat: weak statehood creates a derivative - a cross-border threat of terrorism. The main threat of the region in the face of the terrorist organization DAISH (“Islamic State”, IS, ISIL - a terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation) did not flourish, but was not defeated by the combined efforts of the countries. On the contrary, under the curtain of 2016, the jihadist “caliphate” launched a series of successful attacks on the Iraqi and Syrian counterterrorism fronts. At the same time, thanks to modern and successful propaganda, this organization attracts not only supporters of radical Islam, but also received a stream of extremists from around the world. So, by the beginning of 2017, there were more than 30 thousand mercenaries in their ranks. As for the individual countries in the region, we turn to their relations below.
Key Centers - Iran and Saudi Arabia: Proxy War
The relationship of these two countries was characterized in 2016 by bilateral confrontation on the principle of Proxy War, mediated by war. The situation was fueled by rivalry between Tehran and Riyadh in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon.
The authorities of the Sunni Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab monarchy, after two years of hesitation executed the famous Shiite theologian Nimr al-Nimr, after which the crowd in Tehran and Mashhad defeated the embassy and consulate of the Kingdom in the Islamic Republic, respectively. The response of the Saudi side was the recall of its ambassador from Iran, and, proceeding from the rules of the legal logic of international relations, which, with regard to diplomatic immunity, do not accept the categories of “mob rage”, the break in diplomatic relations. In this situation, the two countries remain so far. Although by the end of 2016 there was a certain thaw between them, but in 2017, Saudi Arabia rejected Iran’s statements about the possibility of improving relations after the completion of the Hajj - the annual pilgrimage to the shrines of Islam located in Saudi Arabia. In the autumn, 2016 managed to reach a political consensus in Lebanon, where pro-Iranian statesman Michel Aoun was elected president, and Saudi Saudis promoted to Saad Hariri as prime minister. Then Iran and Saudi Arabia, through the mediation of Russia, were able to agree on agreements that seemed unattainable in the framework of the OPEC oil deal and non-cartel states.
The direct confrontation of the centers of power in the Middle East did not lead to an armed confrontation, as it did not become the basis of the open conflict between the Sunni and Shiite poles. However, the dangerous factor of destabilization is present. And it manifested itself in an internal conflict in Yemen. During the civil war in Yemen, Iran supported the Hussite rebels (Shiite rebels), and Saudi Arabia, who led the coalition of the Gulf countries, led active military operations against them. In Syria and Iraq, Tehran and Riyadh also have many reasons to continue the frontal geopolitical confrontation, for which the name “proxy war” (“indirect war”) was fixed.
Kingdom on the verge of restructuring
In fact, Saudi Arabia is currently experiencing a difficult period, in no way contributing to the establishment of geopolitical leadership in the region. The prolonged period of cheap oil contributed a lot to this, which fundamentally undermined the kingdom’s social and economic well-being, forcing the ruling family to adopt unconventional measures called Saudi perestroika. In April 2016 was presented the program "Vision-2030" ("Vision-2030"), declaring the fundamental socio-economic changes. At the same time, it was announced the creation of a special sovereign fund, whose assets will be formed through the privatization of the world's largest oil company, Aramco. But the successful implementation of this program in practice raises great doubts, both in the country and abroad.
Inside and outside the kingdom, social destabilization is planned, which the Al-Saud dynasty cannot yet level. And the challenges come from completely unexpected directions and from recent, it would seem, allies. The blow was the passage by Congress of the Law on Justice Against the Sponsors of Terrorism (it was allowed to file lawsuits against Saudi Arabia). Riyadh's reaction was predictably extremely negative: Riyadh threatened to sell US $ 750 billion worth of US assets. Especially when Tehran from Washington began to receive distinct signals to restore relations. Currently, Saudi Arabia remains in the status of a strategic partner of America, even weapons $ 110 billion agreement.
The rise of Iran
The sanctions regime for a long time hampered the development of Iran, but in January 2016, the most painful for the economy international and unilateral sanctions were lifted from it. Tehran has recovered from the International Interbank Information Transmission and Payment System, withdrew from the Western oil embargo, began to sign value and technological contracts with the United States and EU countries, with corporations such as Total, Airbus, Shell, Boeing and others. However, relations with the United States were strained and remained. Due to the suspicions that were not lifted at the end of 2016, the United States Congress extended the first 1996 sanctions for the first time in 10.
The election of Donald Trump created an extra reason for Iran to fear new turns and sharp turns in American foreign policy. And if the new US president with respect to Saudi Arabia has managed to declare that the Saudis, who have “nothing but money,” will be required to have the most active financial participation in US political projects in the region, then Iran does not need finances. Trump publicly disagreed with the “disgraceful nuclear deal for America” (the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan, the agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program of 14 July 2015 of the year). Recall that in accordance with US law, the State Department must every 90 days report to Congress about how Tehran observes the agreement concluded in the 2015 year. But by the next meeting it turned out that there was no complete information. But there was no information that Iran violated the terms of the deal. However, during his visit to Riyadh, the US president pointed to Tehran as “the greatest threat to peace”, and called for the creation of an anti-Iranian coalition. In fact, this is an attempt to achieve regional isolation of Iran.
However, the blockade of Qatar, accused of complicity and numerous ties with terrorist organizations, played into the hands of Iran.
But in the Middle East region as a whole, Iran’s policy can be called successful, especially in comparison with Saudi Arabia. Strengthening of positions in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan became a special success. Iran pursues a successful policy of rapprochement with traditional partners. For example, the vector of the policy of the largest Arab republic of Egypt, which was disillusioned with Iran’s geopolitical opponents, began to be directed towards him.
Egypt: trade in sovereignty
Already in 2014, the elected Egyptian president, Fattah al-Sisi, announced that Egypt would pursue an independent foreign policy, "as Egypt sees it." Sisi tried to adopt a more balanced foreign policy, without breaking off relations with the United States, to improve relations with Russia, France and the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf. Primarily with regional partners.
Egypt was optimistic about even more successful development of relations with the Arab monarchies of the Gulf. And the bases were: mutual visits at the highest level with Saudi Arabia, billion loan agreements and oil contracts. But as the development of the situation showed, more unilateral concessions were required from Egypt, and not always beneficial for him both in foreign policy and in domestic politics. Cairo made significant concessions, including territorial ones: Egypt ceded sovereignty over two islands in the Red Sea. However, civil society responded to this step by activating protest movements, and social discontent was fraught with a new revolution.
Egypt entered into an 23 billion-dollar contract for the supply of oil and oil products with the Arabian Kingdom, but as it turned out, it was again necessary to sacrifice its sovereignty. The Saudis demanded that the republic join the “pan-Arab initiatives” on Syria. Egypt’s response was clearly illustrated during a vote in the UN Security Council in early October 2016 for the Russian draft Syrian resolution (the withdrawal of militants from Aleppo).
Friendship on the money did not work: followed first, the suspension, and then the "freezing" of the supply of oil and refined products from Saudi Arabia to Egypt. The kingdom was not pleased with the result: Cairo, in search of new fuel suppliers to its market, turned its attention to the enemy of Saudis - Iran.
Gradually, Egypt is returning to a multi-vector foreign policy course based on trusted partners. This includes Russia. So, in October 2016, the two countries held an unprecedented military exercise "Defenders of Friendship-2016". In addition, between Russia and Egypt was concluded the largest for the entire modern history bilateral economic ties agreement on the construction of four nuclear power units with a total capacity of 4800 MW. However, without problems, this relationship does not develop. Partial implementation of signed agreements is delayed until the end of 2017. The final contract for the construction of Rosatom first Egyptian nuclear power plant in Al-Dabaa has not yet been signed. The flight between the two countries, interrupted in the autumn of 2015, has not yet resumed. Both sides take a very careful diplomatic approach. Egypt is not in a hurry to enter into a close format of military-political relations with Russia. The Egyptian leadership decisively dissociated itself from the possibility of providing its territory under the counter-terrorist base of the Russian Aerospace Forces.
With the United States during the presidency of Barack Obama, Egypt evolved uneasy relationship. The improvement in US relations with Egypt under Trump began in February 2017, when a promise was made to resume multinational exercises, held every two years jointly by the United States and Egypt. The leaders agreed to hold a regional conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the parties engaged in a regular dialogue on defense and intelligence issues. In the future - an increase in economic assistance to Egypt from the United States, including through the IMF.
To be continued ...