Will there be a sea change in the Middle East?
It is true that the one thing we know nothing about is the future. It is also true that of all the regions of the world, that which is most unstable and thus unpredictable is the Middle East. What is true today was not true yesterday and will very likely not be true tomorrow.
An illustrative case study is Syria. Trying to make sense of the kaleidoscope of organizations, factions, armies, religions and ideologies is a game for fools. Constant interference and intervention with the already sufficiently complex domestic forces on the part of outside states and organizations, especially Iran, Turkey, Russia, the United States, Israel, ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and others turn analysis into necromancy.
In the region as a whole, ranging from Egypt to Iran and from Turkey to Oman, there are very few constants, and the constants that do exist have to do with chaos and conspiracy – they indeed are always present. There must be at least a dozen or so plots on the life of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt at any moment. The Iranian clerical hierarchy is sitting on a seething mass of ethnic, religious, economic and social movements, exacerbated by external sanctions and internal drought and managerial inefficiency. Turkey is little better and its would-be Sultan, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has as little understanding of economic reality as the ayatollahs of Iran.
The United States has had troops in the region now since 2001, and in those 17 years has achieved stability nowhere. Iran and Russia have strategies – the US and Turkey have none. Which is why in relative terms Iran and Russia have achieved more of their goals than their rivals. In addition, Russia so far has little of the domestic instability of Iran and thus of all the participants in this macabre drama, Russia is in the best shape, except for one other country.
Israel is a small island of relative stability and huge scientific, technological and military advantages over all the other players with the relative exception of Russia. It also has the advantage of having an integrated set of strategies in the political, economic and military fields as well as having the best intelligence services in the world.
As this moment an extremely significant opportunity is emerging for Israel to create a sub-regional alliance with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and perhaps Kuwait, not only based on their shared fear of an eventually nuclear-armed Iran, but also and in some ways the more important necessity for those countries to forge economies not dependent solely on oil and gas, presenting them with an opportunity to apply meaningful technologies developed by Israel in basic areas such as water management, agriculture, public health, security and communications.
An extremely significant opportunity is emerging for Israel to create a sub-regional alliance with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and perhaps Kuwait
In this respect, the huge project of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) to create an autonomous tech city with its own government and judicial system in the far-northwestern tip of the kingdom, bordering Jordan and very close to Israel and Egypt, could become the key element in pursuing and eventually consolidating this goal. Should Israel take the initiative to offer its collaboration in developing the city and its activities, and if such an offer were accepted by the Saudis, it is a certainty that the UAE, Egypt, Jordan and others would eagerly participate.
Recently a female Saudi journalist published an article in a government newspaper (and thus had certainly been approved by the censors) in which she lamented that in 70 years Israel had made more progress than all the Arab countries together in the last 700, and that the Arabs, including the Palestinians, never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, and the current opportunity was to collaborate with Israel.
In a public-television interview, a former Kuwaiti minister said it was high time that the Gulf states recognized Israel formally. This is all the more significant because Kuwait, along with Oman, declined to join the Saudi boycott of Qatar.
The passage by the Israeli parliament of a basic law defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, although basically stating the obvious, had a seriously negative effect on local minorities, especially the Druze, and was badly timed in terms of a strategy of alliance-building with the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. But regional reaction was curiously muted, and this, along with the other indications mentioned above, gives hope that all the sub rosa intelligence and security cooperation that has been going on for years between Israel and the anti-Iran coalition will before long give way to open economic, scientific and technological cooperation and diplomatic recognition.
Should this happen, the chaotic and unpredictable Middle East will become significantly less chaotic and unpredictable.