The Middle East

The multiplicity of events in the Middle East involving or attracting significant global actors simultaneously, indicates the extent to which that arena continues to be deemed to be of importance to members of the world community as a whole, whether small or large actors.

Oil producers in the wider Caribbean area, like Venezuela and Trinidad & Tobago, who have had bumper years of revenue from high-priced petroleum prices have suddenly found these plummeting. And speculation is that not only has the oil-price descent been due to the Americans’ desire to exploit production of their relatively new-found sources of shale oil, but that Saudi Arabia has also taken a deliberate decision let the price of oil fall, no doubt because its production costs are so low it can afford to do so, while it knows other producers will suffer. And from our perspective, we have seen the results of this orientation as a Venezuelan economy already on a downward slide, finds its financial returns from petroleum suddenly descending to certainly undesired levels.

But as is well recognized, global concern with the Middle East goes beyond the descent of oil prices, whether or not through Saudi policy manipulation, or the Americans’ desire to have their country rise again as a relatively major oil producer. Many countries of the Middle East, and in particular Saudi Arabia with its Sunni religious orientation, have always been wary of the rise of the Shi’a-oriented Iranian leadership, and the effects of Iranian intervention in other areas of the Middle East. And the Saudi leaders have watched Iran increasing its influence over Iraq, during and since the American-led intervention that overthrew Saddam Hussein, himself of Sunni religious orientation. The situation in that country has remained volatile as a result of the general incompetence and religious partisanship shown by the post-Saddam Shi’a leadership.

Paradoxically, to show the volatility of relations in the area, while it was the Republican-led George W Bush administration that in 2003 overthrew Saddam Hussein, it was a previous Republican-led administration under Ronald Reagan that gave support in Saddam’s favour when between 1980 and 1988 Iran was engaged in conflict with Iraq.

Now, as an incompetent Iraqi Shi’a leadership has again proved unable to defend the country in the face of the current Islamic State intervention in, and virtual splitting of Iraq, the Iranians feel themselves, paradoxically, aligned with the United States.

As has become fairly obvious, that alignment has, however, a certain diplomatic convenience for the Iranians, as they find themselves involved with a US-led effort designed, clearly, not only to settle the issue of Iranian possession of a nuclear force capability, but also to provide a basis for normalizing the Iraqi situation in the face of the IS intervention, now seen as the major threat to stability in the Middle East.

Interestingly, in that context, the United States finds itself having to tread carefully in respect of its diplomatic intervention vis-à-vis Iran re the nuclear weapons capability issue. For a solution to this matter would, it appears, not be entirely pleasing to the Saudi government. For, from its perspective, the present diplomacy relates not simply to the matter of containing the pursuit of nuclear weapons capabilities in the Middle East, which Iran has further pushed onto the global agenda, but from the Saudi perspective, it concerns the possibility of an emerging balance of power within the Region, in which the Saudis might certainly feel somewhat disadvantaged in the context of normalized US-Iran relations.

In that regard, it would appear, the Saudis are not entirely unhappy about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent intervention within the American capital itself, designed to sabotage President Obama’s (indeed Nato’s) diplomatic manoeuvre to inhibit further development of the Iranians’ nuclear effort.

Saudi Arabia has, of course, been not simply the United States’ closest ally diplomatically in the Middle East, bar Israel (and Egypt at an earlier stage), but has also had a certain, not ideological but de facto, partiality to Israeli manoeuvres among the leading Middle Eastern states, as a means of negatively influencing the emergence of other players in the area. This was, of course, more visible in a previous era in Egypt, but has continued to exist as efforts have been made to find a solution to the Palestinian issue.

Today, the political regime in the other dominant country of the area, Egypt, appears to have an open hand in respect of what is another aspect of American diplomacy, which is to arrive at a resolution of the Palestine matter, particularly as it has become obvious that, even in the face of intense Israeli pressure, combined with the competitive power-play within Palestine itself, the balance-of-power within the Region does not, at this time, favour an holistic Middle Eastern (or Arabian) response to Israel on a Palestine settlement.

Small, and relatively distant from that regional arena, as we are, there seems a necessity to include, in the variety of our diplomatic interventions, this issue of influence of current Middle Eastern events on our own development options. The lessening of oil revenues on the part of our benefactors within the wider Caribbean-Latin American region, suggests a tightening of financial support if the turmoil in the Middle East persists.

So as we, among the lesser players on this issue, watch the current manoeuvres, a certain alertness to changing balances within the Middle East, and between the major players seeking to influence Middle Eastern relations, is necessary.

For, given our membership of the United Nations, major nations will be monitoring our own attitudes to the initiatives and counter-initiatives in the area.

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