In September 2019, Saudi oilfields were attacked, and Houthi armed forces claimed responsibility, which triggered further confrontation between the United States and Iran. In October, a military strike called “Fountain of Peace” launched by Turkey in northern Syria followed, claiming to completely eliminate local Kurdish militants and “Islamic State” elements. The world’s attention is again focused on this chaotic and fragmented area.
In recent years, with the influence of world powers, especially the United States and Russia ’s policies on the Middle East, changes in regional power comparisons, and the appearance of subnational armed forces, the pot of the Middle East has been boiled for decades. “Chaos” seems to be undergoing profound changes. From the launch of military operations in Turkey, it can be felt as if no one is in a neighboring country. The geopolitics of the Middle East seems to be undergoing historical changes.
Remove the smoke from the chaos, clarify the chaos branches, and look for the direction of the undercurrent. We may wish to examine the situation surrounded by extraterritorial powers, the checks and balances of regional power struggles, other complex factors, and its current situation from four perspectives.
Power Policy Adjustments: US-Russia Middle East Game Produces Subtle Changes
As early as the Obama era, the United States has implemented strategies to reduce military investment in the Middle East, reduce the use of military means, unwilling military intervention, and unwilling to overinvest in the Middle East. Its core concern is to improve relations with Iran through the Iranian nuclear The agreement was negotiated. At this time, the relationship between the United States and Iran reached an unprecedented height in history, including a presidential call and regular meetings with the foreign minister. Through direct dialogue with Iran, the Obama administration still maintains the same influence and voice in the region while ensuring reduced investment in the Middle East.
But after Trump came to power, the first of the Middle East strategy was to make Iran a top threat, so he fundamentally changed Obama’s policy. The second was to strengthen relations with traditional allies against Iran, and he elevated relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. And hope that Saudi Arabia and the UAE can form a solid core and build an “Arab NATO” with them as the core. The original intention may be to unify the power of pro-American countries to strengthen the right to speak in the Middle East, but this policy In fact, it is pushing the United States to continuously increase its investment in the Middle East, and does not fully consider the various gaps and contradictions existing among pro-American countries. From this perspective, the Trump administration ’s Middle East policy is extremely flawed. For example, the Trump administration has always been reluctant to engage in large-scale and deep involvement in Syria, but from the non-lethal weapons assistance provided by the CIA to the opposition in 2012 to the lethal weapons provided in 2013, and by the U.S. military in 2014, the U.S. military in 2015 Sending ground troops and establishing a large-scale network of military bases in 2017, it is clear that US involvement in Syria is getting deeper and deeper. It is worth mentioning that the Trump administration deliberately avoided Turkey and Egypt, two regional powers, in the process of constructing “Arab NATO”. Therefore, it is not difficult to see that the various actions of the United States in the Middle East in recent years are a manifestation of the weakening of the United States ’ability in this region. Because it is increasingly difficult to control the large countries in this region, it seems that gathering small and medium-sized countries in a limited scope is more Like a helplessness.
In contrast, Russia has significantly increased its influence in the Middle East through military operations in Syria and flexible and practical diplomatic means. Countries such as Israel and Saudi Arabia have to maintain close contact with Russia on regional security issues, while Egypt, the UAE and other countries have proactively expanded cooperation with Russia. Turkey’s relations with Russia have also heated up in recent years, and it has maintained an unspeakable tacit understanding with Putin in many Middle East operations. Russia has restored and expanded its influence in the Middle East through its close relations with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, and has taken decisive political, diplomatic and military actions after the Syria crisis. It is worth noting that on October 14, 2019, Putin made a surprise visit to Saudi Arabia, signed a number of cooperation agreements, and presented King Salman with a chick. Such a visit is even more intriguing at a time when the U.S. forces are withdrawing in Syria and the Kurdish armed forces are isolated.
Although the United States is still the largest dominant country in the Middle East, compared with other big powers, the United States is a “face”. It has an impact on every country and every issue in the Middle East, and Russia’s influence is There are only three points, namely, the continued influence on Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah, but Russia ’s influence in the Middle East has shown a rapid growth trend. Putin has used Russia ’s comparative advantages in some regions to successfully pass the focus issue. Leveraging the balance of power across the Middle East.
As a big country that has always affected the changing situation in the Middle East, the situation of the US-Russia game is undergoing subtle changes. The United States is losing ground in the Middle East, while Russia ’s flexible and timely military and diplomatic means after the Syrian civil war have allowed the Middle East Geopolitical balance is changing. The process of evolution from one balance to another will inevitably be accompanied by the emergence of chaos. Perhaps the Middle East is experiencing such a process.
Regional Force Evolution——Adjustment and Evolution of Major National Forces
The game of great powers represented by the United States and Russia and geo-strategic competition have jointly shaped the current strategic pattern of the Middle East. With the changes in US and Russia ’s Middle East policy and investment in power, the old and new issues are intertwined, and the geo-power comparison in the Middle East is developing towards a new form. The current observable changes in the world are concentrated in the continued weakening and differentiation of the Arab countries and the strength of Turkey. Rising and strengthening the “looking east” strategy, Iran’s advantage of defending offense is prominent.
Since the change of the Middle East in 2011, the Arab world has continued to weaken and differentiate. Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, the traditional powers of the Arab world, have dwindled due to economic, political, security, and external interference, and are unable to continue to play a leading and leading role in the Arab world and the Middle East. Gulf Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, have tried to play a leading role in the affairs of the Arab world and even the Middle East, and their influence in the Arab world has increased. However, due to long-term dependence on the United States, the Gulf Arab states have limitations in science, technology, military, politics, and diplomacy. Instead of uniting and uniting to achieve “speak with one voice,” they have internally consumed each other in a series of tests, leading to politics The fragmentation trend continues to intensify, making it impossible to provide solutions for the development and security of the Arab world, nor to truly dominate the affairs of the Arab world and the Middle East. It can be said that the relative increase in the influence of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the Arab world is just a manifestation of the overall weakening of the Arab world.
With the continued weakening of the Arab world, it has increasingly become the object of competition and rapprochement by other countries in the region, and has also intensified differentiation to a certain extent. Iran has strong influence over Arab countries such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen; Turkey-Qatar relations have become closer in the “broken diplomatic turmoil”, trying to support the Brotherhood’s power within the Arab world; Israel in addition to Egypt and Jordan Apart from maintaining diplomatic relations, it has also been developing cooperative relations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Gulf Arab countries. Non-Arab countries in the Middle East use the weakening of the Arab world to compete for it, leading to further differentiation of the Arab world. This is a new feature of the Arab world’s differentiation at this stage, which is different from the division caused by the strong powers in the Arab world.
In contrast to the weakening and differentiation of the Arab world, the non-Arab countries of the Middle East, Iran and Turkey, are in a strong state.
Iran has successfully maintained domestic political stability and national security, and its regional and global influence is also expanding. After the Iraq war in 2003, there was a “Iran rise”. With the outbreak of the 2006 Israel-Hizbollah conflict, the Syrian civil war in 2011, and the Yemen war in 2015, Iran’s regional influence has continued to expand and it is the core and leader of Shi’ite forces in the Middle East.
After the Justice and Development Party came to power, Turkey’s national strength has been greatly improved. After the “Arab Spring” broke out, Putin sent troops to Syria, and the Middle East formed two major forces led by the United States and Russia. Regional conflicts intensified. Erdogan also seized the opportunity to accelerate “return to the Middle East.” On the one hand, it walks between the major powers, actively shapes the status of regional powers, and steadily expands its political and military presence in the three major subregions of the Middle East, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Gulf and the Red Sea-the Horn of Africa. On the other hand, as Erdogan’s “look west” policy was frustrated, he turned to the “look east” strategy, forcibly sending troops to fight Kurdish forces, controlling northern Syria, and intervening in the Syrian war. In August 2016, Turkey launched a military operation “Shield of the Euphrates River”, which controlled an area of about 2,000 square kilometers in northern Syria and planned to establish a “safe area”. In January 2018, Turkey launched another code-named “olive branch” in northern Syria. Military operations, and has repeatedly crossed the border to hit targets in Iraq. In October 2019, Turkey launched a military operation called “Spring of Peace” in northern Syria, claiming to completely eliminate local Kurdish militants and remnants of “Islamic State” elements. Turkey’s recent actions against its Arab neighbours reflect its ambitious intention to reshape the Middle East order and seek to become a regional power.
It is the huge changes in the strength and strategies of the major countries in these regions that have caused the current geopolitical landscape in the Middle East to become confusing and difficult to establish an effective security cooperation mechanism in the Middle East.
New Changes in Focus Areas-Changes in the situation in the focus areas of the struggle
At present, geo-strategic competition in the Middle East is concentrated in focus countries such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Libya. In Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya, geostrategic competition has evolved into fierce confrontation in the form of civil war and armed conflict, and political and security crises have repeatedly occurred in Lebanon. Recently, the situation in two hot spots in Syria and Iraq has once again attracted world attention.
The struggle in the Syrian region has now reached a new stage, which can be felt from a series of events ranging from Turkey sending troops south to attack the Kurdish armed forces and occupying northern Syria, the US withdrawal to Iraq and abandoning the Kurdish armed forces, and Putin’s mediating mediation. At the focus of the first struggle, it seems that the attitudes and strengths of all parties have changed.
First, the United States’ right to speak and initiative on the Syrian issue may be largely lost. Recently, Russia announced that it has begun patrolling between the Syrian army and the Turkish army. It also announced that an international conference on Syria involving Russia, Turkey and Iran will be held. This meeting did not invite the United States to participate, which shows that Russia has excluded the United States Outside the process of the Syrian issue, this is a rare situation for the United States since World War II. Any international issue that did not involve the United States before can not be resolved. Now the United States is not required to resolve international issues. Resolving the Syria issue is no longer important, or US opposition is no longer effective. Secondly, Turkey’s strong involvement and dialogue with Putin will greatly increase its right to speak in this region. According to media analysis, Turkey ’s military invasion of Syria is likely to seek more political capital and collect bargaining chips in order to gain more from the negotiations between the three countries. For example, it has greater influence and control in the Kurdish region in northern Syria.
Iraq, another focus area, has also recently attracted world attention. Since the beginning of October 2019, serious riots have occurred in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, and a large number of people have gathered in front of the parliament building, calling on the government to launch effective reform programs and severely punish corruption. The riots soon spread across Iraq and escalated into a demand for the government to step down. After hundreds of US troops withdrew from Syria to Iraq, the civil strife in Iraq deteriorated sharply. Agence France-Presse reported on October 25 that anti-government protests have occurred again in various parts of Iraq, with live ammunition and fire killing many people.
What is more noteworthy is that although the recent Iraqi government has been supported by the United States, the relationship between Iraq and Iran is gradually getting closer in recent years due to the growing pro-Iranian armed forces in the country. Just as on March 11, 2019, Iranian President Rouhani stated in Iraq that he wanted to strengthen the “brotherhood” between Iran and Iran. He also specifically talked about the United States, saying that “the United States is hated in this region, and we cannot forget the bombing of Iraq, Syria and other Shiite countries by the United States.”
If we say that the geopolitical games surrounding the United States and Russia and many countries in the Middle East are intertwined with undercurrents, then the focus areas in the Middle East are like raging flames. Therefore, the focus countries are both important players and major platforms for the game of big powers, and they also determine geopolitical strategies. The key factors for the outcome of competition and the strength of regional national camps. Changes in the situation in Syria and Iraq are further reflecting the gradual weakening of US influence in the Middle East and the ever-decreasing confidence of Middle Eastern partners in the past, and also affecting the adjustment of policies in other countries in the region.
Non-government bulges-subnational armed forces become focus of struggle
The outbreak of civil war and armed conflict has reduced the ability of the central government of the focus country and even disintegrated it, and its control over force and territory has been more or less weakened, which provides space for the growth of non-state armed actors. Especially in recent years, under the influence of the “Arab Spring”, Syria, Iraq and other countries are active in many national armed forces and are playing an increasingly important role in the regional geopolitical pattern.
The most prominent of these is the Kurdish armed forces in Iraq and Syria. They occupy a place at the border between Turkey and Syria, and continue to use the conditions of the Syrian civil war and the weak Iraqi government to develop and grow in this focus area and seek to establish an independent country.
In contrast, at present, the subnational armed forces in Syria, the “Syrian Freedom Army”, the “Turkmen Brigade” and other “inverted Pakistani” attitudes are firm, but their strength is too weak to constitute a lethal threat to the Bashar regime, and is controlled by Turkey, not the United States. ; Although terrorist organizations such as the “Islamic State” and the “Conquest Front” are powerful and resolute in their “downpour” attitude, they are no longer under the joint attack of the United States and Russia; only the “Syrian Democratic Army” is strong and has strong combat effectiveness. The Bashar regime is ambiguous. The above situation has exposed the US “downpour” embarrassment, contrasting Russia’s flexible initiative on Syrian policies and military presence, and it also highlights the unique role of Kurdish forces in influencing the future direction of the situation in Syria. Recently, Turkey sent troops to fight the Kurdish armed forces, the United States abruptly withdrew, Putin mediated to promote the cooperation between the Kurdish armed forces and the Bashar regime, and finally Russia and Turkey gained their own gains. This dramatic scene further illustrates the important role of the Kurdish armed forces in the entire Syrian war.
In addition, there are Hezbollah, which has great influence in Lebanon, “People’s Mobilization Forces” that have grown in Iraq in the past three years, Yemeni Houthi armed forces and Palestinian Hamas organizations that have continued to fight against Saudi Arabia. The political structure has had an important impact, and to a certain extent, it has also shaken the situation in the Middle East with regional powers. With the recent decline of US power in the Middle East, the new geopolitical pattern is gradually taking shape during the division and adjustment of the power camp. The contradictions in the process will focus on the focus areas and countries. The key to gaining advantages in the focus countries is It lies in these subnational armed actors.
We increasingly feel that with the repeated failures of the United States’ Middle East policy, especially the “abandonment” of Kurdish armed forces in Syria some time ago, it has completely underscored the current shift in the focus of global power in the United States and its inability to perform in the Middle East. Recognize that the current chaos in the Middle East has become a difficult problem for a single country.
Looking at the “bureau” and thinking about “potential”, governance of “chaos” must seek “cooperation”. Facing the future, only by establishing a Middle East security mechanism and economic cooperation mechanism jointly promoted by the United States, Russia, China, and other large countries and with the extensive participation of regional countries, can we The situation promotes the positive development of geopolitical chaos in the Middle East. This is a huge challenge and we wait and see.