Many observers are correct in noting that the Middle East is undergoing yet another seismic shift – that the Russian-brokered destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, a US-Iranian rapprochement, the diminished strategic value of Saudi Arabia and Israel, and a US withdrawal from Afghanistan will all contribute to changing regional dynamics considerably.
But what is this new direction? Where will it come from, who will lead it, what will define it?
It has now become clear that the new Mideast “direction” is guided primarily by the “security threat” posed by the proliferation of extremist, sectarian, Islamist fighters in numbers unseen even in Afghanistan or Iraq. This shared danger has been the impetus behind a flurry of global diplomatic deals that has spawned unexpected cooperation between a diverse mix of nations, many of them adversaries.
These developments come with a unique, post-imperialist twist, though. For the first time in decades, this direction will be led from inside the region, by those Mideast states, groups, sects and parties most threatened by the extremism.
Because nobody else is coming to “save” the Middle East today.
Not a Uniform Union
In Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, there exists significant – mainly Sunni – populations that currently do not back a security union between the four states. Decades of sectarian propaganda from the GCC and west has made this demographic highly suspicious of the intentions of Shia Iran and its allies.
Although these populations are just as likely to be targeted by Salafist militants who have now killed Sunni moderates (along with Christians, Kurds and Shia) in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, their reluctance to see political foes gain influence has often meant they have provided “cover” for militant co-religionists and allowed them to proliferate locally. The choice is painful for this demographic: let your adversaries rise or let extremists run amok.
But earlier this year, when Hezbollah took the decision to fight openly in Qusayr, Syria alongside the Syrian army, it became clear that the parties supporting this security alliance would no longer humor the dissenters.
This Security Arc would be forged with or without the approval of naysayers. And buy-in for the security imperative is coming from an unlikely source: the United States.
In the past few months, Washington has suddenly gone from backing a mostly Sunni ‘rebellion’ in Syria to reaching out to Iran. This about-turn stems from the realization that the US has dangerously overplayed its geopolitical game and allowed religious militancy to swell past the point of no return. Neither Washington nor its NATO partners can reverse this trend unaided. Both failed miserably in the decade-long, superficial “war on terror,” which, if anything, helped sow further seeds of extremism. The US now understands that it needs the assistance of vested regional partners and rising powers that face a more imminent threat from militants – Iran, Russia, China, India, Syria, Iraq, – not just to fight extremism, but to cut off its source…in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan and other places.
Security Arc: Plan of Action
Things are moving rapidly on every front. The convergence of extremist sectarian militias into the 50,000-strong “Islamic Front” has created further common cause on the other side. The US and UK last week withdrew support for rebels, belatedly fearing radicalization of the ‘rebellion.’ And Iran launched diplomatic efforts in neighboring Gulf states to divide their ranks against toeing the old adversarial line, succeeding when Oman refused to support a Saudi initiative for a GCC union.
Gravitating Toward The “Security” Priority
You can see the calculations changing in nations beyond the Security Arc already. Many keenly understand the vital role these four countries will have to play to stem militancy. All eyes right now are on Syria where the security situation is most precarious for the region – particularly in Egypt, Jordan and Turkey.
The latter three are the regional states most likely to support the Security Arc’s security objectives, albeit with reservations that accompany some fairly stark political differences.
Full article: “Security Arc” forms amidst Mideast terror (Alakhbar English)