One feels a certain obligation when it comes to Middle Eastern affairs, to familiarise with what’s going on, almost as much as one would engage in Westminster politics.
The wars in the Middle East have been our generation’s wars. We’ve grown up in the shadow of 9/11 and the subsequent War on Terror, and we’ve matured alongside the conflicts and developments that have shaped our nation’s – and many nation’s – foreign policy. It is perhaps wise to consider that despite the fact we have pulled out most of our armed forces – we have still vested interests in the region. It is perhaps also wise to consider the next chapter in this tale: ISIS are still prevalent and other events are unfolding that possibly foreshadow the greatest threat to our security.
The nuclear talks between Iran and the UN (led by the US) closed successfully. Political commentators suggest that the US is seeking to work with Iran more closely in dealing with ISIS to stabilise the region. Iran presents a paradise of stability in the Middle East and is a powerful military nation. The sanctions on Iran have allowed it to enjoy apartheid-style benefits, a strong domestic arms industry, a seemingly united populace and a proven economic resilience. The Obama administration has taken a tougher stance on Israel and disregarded apocalyptic warnings from Netanyahu by continuing to push for reconciliation with Iran.
By doing so, America might find itself not only with a solution to its issues with Iran, but potentially a new trade partner and possible ally in the fight against ISIS. There are critics of this though, including former CIA deputy director Mike Morrell. However, a quick look at the many factions and their supporters in the current conflict with ISIS, and lines are quickly blurred.
“the US has suffered the inability of the Arab world to protect its vital interests”
Saudi Arabia’s recent actions against Yemen are a culmination of a decades-long military expansion. Saudi Arabia, like many oil rich nations, have invested their wealth in arms. However, in the past the Saudi’s have taken a back seat, and the US has suffered the inability of the Arab world to protect its vital interests. Indeed, the first Gulf War was fought primarily to defend Kuwait and secure Saudi Arabia. Long have been the dreams of the day in which the Gulf states can adequately defend themselves; with the US looking to resolve the outstanding issues with Iran, alongside the rise of ISIS, the Saudi’s appear to have stepped up to prove their mettle. By intervening in Yemen against anti-government forces (forces supported by Iran no less) Saudi Arabia is sending a clear message to America that it can be a reliable asset against threats from factions like ISIS and that there is no need to entertain thoughts of closer ties to Iran.
The issue boils down chiefly to one of the most root causes of all problems in the region: Sunni and Shia tension. As the preeminent Shia state, Iran is the greatest rival to the preeminent Sunni state, Saudi Arabia. If sanctions on Iran are lifted and the US begins to work closer with Tehran to combat ISIS, the Iranians will undoubtedly seek to empower themselves on a global level, which would have direct consequences on its regional power. In response, Saudi Arabia will have no choice but to likewise assert itself. With both nation’s large oil reserves, it is not unreasonable to suggest an arms race breaking out and with the myriad of minor armed factions in the region, it is a perfect environment for proxy wars to be waged. A series of culminating actions could then lead to Iran and Saudi Arabia spiralling out of control and potentially threatening the world’s most important oil producing region.
Our interests in the Middle East are by no means secure, and while we are dependent on the Gulf States’ oil reserves we are tied to the regions’ affairs. If Iran rejoins the international community, any future conflict could leave the West torn between the two states, especially if Saudi Arabia emerges as the aggressor. If this happens, how should we react?
I feel it foolish to believe just because we have pulled most of our forces out that we are free from the developments of Middle Eastern politics, every bullet fired, every bomb dropped could skyrocket oil prices, directly effecting us at home. And I fear that the worst is quite possibly yet to come.