CHANGING LANDSCAPE OF MIDDLE EAST

The newly emerged geopolitics in the Middle East could be understood via
understanding America’s foreign policy preferences in the region, not only in today’s terms
but also in the past since there is an evident controversy. According to the current President
of the United States of America Donald Trump: The U.S. has no interest in maintaining the
free flow of energy. The explanation given falsifies the 40-years long existence of America
in the region (Wecshler, 2020). Since the so-called withdrawal of the U.S. from the region is
providing a basis to understand the emerging geopolitics of the Middle East in its roughest
terms. This article aims to interpret another article titled ‘Tomorrow’ the Middle East is
Emerging Today is written by Will Wechsler on 18 September 2020. With the same order, this
article focuses on the US public views, China’s, Iran’s, Turkey’s, and finally Russia’s regional
roles.
The public though is against any incrementally continuous role of the US in the
region for sure. The “multiple presidential campaign cycles” (Wecshler, 2020) in the US
constructs a solid example for people’s views. The military reduction decision is carried by
the ‘election calendar’ rather than strategic thinking either in Iraq or Afghanistan. For
Wecshler (2020), this is the result of malfunctioning U.S. politics coupled with the ever-
the increasing number of divisions inside the country. Therefore, without Trump’s controversial
claim, the public wants the withdrawal of the U.S. and the other parties could easily read the
pools (Wechsler). In the end, despite being more powerful than others in the region, the U.S.
and As a consequence, there is an inevitable emergence of a new geopolitical order,
which was perceived as changeful even closer to become perilous. With the formation of the
new order, its verge as well as limitations are focused and emphasized. Moreover, one should
not forget that the rise and fall of several parties through the years made more adjusted for the
possibility of a more unstable future.
When it comes to the active players in the region, China, it could be right to say, has
not be an assertive one. Yet, being a prominent trading partner for several countries in the
the region is one side; forming a strong navy to secure its energy lifelines would change the
the landscape for the Middle East in the upcoming years as Wecshler (2020) argues. Iran,
Turkey, and finally Russia should be evaluated together as they have already begun to try to
fill the current power vacuum that created by the retraction of the U.S. Resulted from the
mistakes of America; Iran has been extending its influence over Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen,
Syria, and Lebanon by providing it’s with weapons against Israel and Gulf states.
Supposedly Iran also conducts secret operations among the Shite population while expanding its
fluency in international waters and borders (Wecshler, 2020). With the counter-action of
killing Soleimani, it could be thought that Iran is discouraged to make public threats against
the United States of America, whilst still carrying the will of extracting the U.S. out of the
region. For Wechsler, it is important to acknowledge that President Erdogan adopts more of
an Islamic approach as choosing ‘former Ottoman legacy’ over the Kemalist view when
shifted its axis closer to the Muslim Brotherhood at the expense of hurting its relations with
Israel. Military operations in Syria, Iraq, and Libya set an example for Turkey’s close
perspective with the Muslim Brotherhood. Besides, Turkey has an active role in the Eastern
Mediterranean considering the energy disputes with Greece. The final point could be the
relation of Turkey with the United States. It is, for Wecshler (2020), evident that the relation
between them is a formal one because of NATO, but it can be easily changed via the
purchasing of S-400 missiles from Russia. For Russia, it is easily seen that their aims are
contradicted with the U.S. Starting from their alliance with Iran in supporting the criminal
regime of Syria which later on resulted in a horrible war that made the U.S. uncomfortable. It
continues with its expanding presence in the Mediterranean intending to threaten NATO.
Wecshler (2020) argues that even though the fact that Russia is diplomatically weak they
played their hands well. Therefore, Russia’s position remains central in Syria that eventually
enhanced the dialogue with Turkey as well as Israel. For the American side, One of the
great accomplishments of United States Foreign Policy in the last quarter of the 20th century was
expelling Russia from playing a malign role in the region, but Russia got back to the game.
In the near past, non-Arab powers have to fight with the traditional leaders mainly in
Baghdad, Cairo, and Damascus. They held significant military capacity which got the
attention of infamous Arab Street and they struggled for a wider impact on the Arab world.
For the author, they could not go further than being their predecessor’s pale shadow.
To overcome the increase of power of non-Arab countries, there should be a new
regional power coalition to Wecshler (2020), but it seems that rather than coalition the
closeness of Israel and the Gulf States should be defined on shared-interests. Although most
of the states would prefer to make bilateral agreements for their safety they can also sign
secret agreements with Russia which they do not trust or China which they do not know
Although the U.S. made efforts to form multiple administration. For Wecshler (2020), the Gulf-Israel coalition; has finally emerged. It is right to think that formation is beneficial for
the U.S. anyways since Iran, Turkey and Russia’s growing powers are not. It could be used on
the efforts of withdrawal more strongly, but it will worsen the situation in terms of instability.
It would be better if America would empower its existence while reinforcing its place to
newly emerged sharing of interests.

This article is written by Ayça Süngü

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Israel and the UAE Just Made Peace. Is It About Iran—Or Turkey?

Turkey, Qatar, and U.S. domestic politics loom just as large as the Islamic Republic in the Middle Eastern powers’ decision to normalize relations.

by Matthew Petti

 

Israel will establish diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates and hold off on the U.S.-backed plan to annex part of the Palestinian territories, all three countries announced Thursday.
The UAE and Israel have long cooperated on countering Iranian influence, but the latest move portends more cooperation on other issues, including the growing Turkish-Qatari alliance. And it comes as U.S. President Donald Trump comes looking for a diplomatic breakthrough ahead of November’s elections.

“This historic diplomatic breakthrough will advance peace in the Middle East region and is a testament to the bold diplomacy and vision of the three leaders and the courage of the United Arab Emirates and Israel to chart a new path that will unlock the great potential in the region,” the United States, Israel, and the UAE claimed in a joint statement.

The two sides will be establishing a “Strategic Agenda for the Middle East” alongside the United States, according to the statement.

The only other Arab countries to have formal relations with Israel are Egypt and Jordan. The UAE is the first Persian Gulf nation to normalize its relations with Israel.

“Formalizing what has been an informal relationship is a wise move by both parties,” said International Institute for Strategic Studies fellow and former U.S. diplomat Mark Fitzpatrick. “It wins them plaudits from across the political spectrum in the U.S. and strengthens their de facto partnership vis-a-vis Iran.”

The threat of Iran has long loomed large in the UAE-Israeli relationship. Both sides opposed the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, and both sides are currently pushing for the United Nations to impose an arms embargo on the Islamic Republic.

But the move also came just a week after Iranian and UAE foreign ministers held a rare public meeting, signaling that UAE-Iranian relations are beginning to warm.

“Why is this happening now? It has nothing to do with Iran,” said Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute. “The word that would sum it up best is Turkey.”
Turkey, Israel, Qatar, and the UAE were once all part of the same pro-U.S. bloc in the Middle East.

Their relations soured during the Arab Spring, when Turkey and Qatar backed uprisings by populist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, while the UAE supported established regimes.

“Why the UAE and not any other Gulf country?” Ibish said. “Israel and the UAE share the same threat perception in a unique way. They agree on Iran, but then they agree on Turkey, and the Muslim Brotherhood, and Qatar.”

The UAE-Israeli deal comes as Turkey ramps up its regional efforts along several different fronts.

In recent months, Turkish forces have launched massive offensives against Kurdish militants in Syria and Iraq, intervened against the UAE-backed strongman Khalifa Haftar in Libya, backed Azerbaijan in its post-Soviet territorial dispute with Armenia, and confronted the Greek Navy in disputed waters.

Just this week, Israeli officials formally declared their support for Greece in the eastern Mediterranean dispute.

Israel, however, is not totally aligned against Qatar’s regional activities. Qatar helps finance the unrecognized Palestinian statelet in Gaza in exchange for keeping the Israeli-Gazan border quiet.

Israel’s state broadcaster reported on Wednesday that Israeli officials were asking Qatar to renew its payments to Gaza’s ruling party, Hamas, as militants began to launch explosive balloons across the border.

“Everybody needs somebody to do it,” said Ibish. “If the Hamas regime in Gaza collapsed with nothing to replace it, that’s worse for everyone.”

He said even close UAE allies like Egypt worry that groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda could fill the power vacuum.
The Israeli-UAE deal now opens space for the UAE to appear as a champion of Palestinian rights, as it has apparently suspended Israel’s plans to annex parts of the disputed West Bank.

“The UAE can boast of being the only Arab state to successfully limit Israeli expansion, even though Israel didn’t want to annex the West Bank anyway,” Fitzpatrick claimed.
Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan would have allowed Israel to annex its settlements in the Palestinian territories. Palestinian leaders denounced the plan as a sham and neighboring Jordan warned that annexation would undermine the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty.

Israel pressed ahead, claiming that it would begin annexing territory by July 1.

But the Israeli government was bogged down by the coronavirus pandemic and the possibility of the fourth round of elections in less than two years, and July 1 passed with no announcements.

The U.S.-Israeli-UAE joint statement credits UAE diplomacy for stopping annexation.

“As a result of this diplomatic breakthrough and at the request of President [Donald] Trump with the support of the United Arab Emirates, Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty over” disputed Palestinian territories “and focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world,” according to the statement.

The statement adds that “[t]he parties will continue their efforts…to achieve a just, comprehensive and enduring resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The statement still leaves the door open for annexation at a later date. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he is “still committed” to annexing the disputed territories.

Palestinian leaders were not thrilled with the Israeli-UAE deal, and the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority referred to it as a “betrayal of Jerusalem.”

“The Palestinian Authority is very, very weak,” said Israel Policy Forum policy advisor Shira Efron. “This will probably weaken it further, because it’s a failure of its strategy.”

Normalization of relations with Arab countries had been a very strong “incentive” for Israel “to go for peace with the Palestinians,” she explained at a Wednesday video conference hosted by the Israel Policy Forum, and this leverage has now been “taken away” from the Palestinians.

The Israel Policy Forum noted in a statement attached to the event that “beginning the process of normalization with the UAE is not the same as achieving regional peace or a permanent status agreement to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

But the appearance of progress has already helped ingratiate Israel and the UAE with both parties in Washington—both Republicans looking to salvage the Trump peace plan, and Democrats uneasy with prior Israeli plans to annex Palestinian territory.

“We hope this provides a good foundation for building on the vision for peace that the President has laid out, and I wanted to just thank all the participants—the Emiratis, the Israelis, and all of the team on the United States side—that brought this to fruition,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R–Idaho) called the Israeli-UAE announcement a “historic agreement” with “the potential to dramatically improve relationships across the Middle East.”

“I look forward to greater collaboration between two key U.S. partners as we address common challenges and shared threats across the region,” he said in a statement.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D–N.Y.) had similar praise.

“This is a mutually beneficial step that will strengthen both countries,” he said in a statement. “I hope that this new breakthrough will give courage to other countries to move forward toward normalization and motivate Palestinians to give peace a chance

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COVID-19 PUT THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN’S HYDROCARBON DREAMS ON HOLD

On Tuesday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will do something pretty unusual in the age of COVID-19 — travel overseas. Mitsotakis will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel to discuss the resumption of commercial flights between their countries, as well as regional energy politics — two things which have been dramatically disrupted by the pandemic. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades is also expected to visit Israel later this month.

The discovery of offshore hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean over a decade ago has sparked intense diplomatic activity. Hoping to maximize the sea’s riches, many of the region’s governments have proposed ambitious projects that would transport the natural gas to Europe via undersea pipelines. Encouraged by U.S. administrations that saw energy development as a vehicle for strengthening ties between its allies, the rough edges of a new regional framework for cooperation slowly took form in January 2019, when the governments of Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority established the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, a multinational body tasked with developing a regional gas market and mechanism for resource development.

BECOME A MEMBER

COVID-19 has scuttled this momentum. The pandemic’s impact on the global energy market has damaged the conditions for Eastern Mediterranean states to profitably export their gas, and has caused a massive rethink amongst policymakers about how to make the most out of the circumstances. Although regional actors may no longer be bound to building pipelines, energy still has the potential to propel greater regional cooperation in the coming decade. American diplomatic support and engagement would go a long way to turning this opportunity into a reality.

Israel’s Stake in the Eastern Mediterranean

This is a bitter pill for all of the region’s actors to swallow, but perhaps none more so than Israel. Historically bereft of fossil fuels, the discovery of the Tamar and Leviathan fields (in 2009 and 2010, respectively) were seen as a potential game-changer for the Jewish State. The Netanyahu government committed to the concept of gas exports as a strategic boon to Israel, and aggressively pursued a regional policy that embraced partnerships with Greece and Cyprus, as well as export deals with Jordan and Egypt. Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz spent most of the last five years promoting the “East Med pipeline” — a 1,900-kilometer undersea pipeline that would link Israel to Italy via Greece and Cyprus.

However, the East Med pipeline — which upon completion would be the longest undersea pipeline in the world — was always more of a political project than a serious commercial endeavor. Not only did the path of the proposed pipeline run through disputed waters between Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus, but also active geological fault lines and deep trenches. These geopolitical and technical challenges could theoretically be overcome, yet industry experts argue that the biggest obstacle to the East Med pipeline is its commercial feasibility. With an estimated $7 billion price tag, there are doubts that Israeli and Cypriot gas would remain competitive by the time it arrived in Europe. For several years the European Commission has been exploring the possibility of committing to the pipeline, but at this stage is unlikely to back it financially.

The collapse of global energy prices brought on by the combination of an oversupplied market, warmer-than-average winter, and the coronavirus pandemic, has buried the East Med pipeline and put Israel in a serious quandary. Committed to a contract with Tamar and Leviathan’s developers that no longer meshes with the current economic circumstances, Israel is paying three times the global average for its own gas. The price discrepancy is so sharp that the Israel Electric Corporation is buying imported liquid natural gas at half the price of domestic supply. It is no wonder, then, that Steinitz began his second term in office with declarations that Israel would accelerate its construction of solar energy infrastructure.

The Position of Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey

Israel is not alone in this predicament. Almost the entire Eastern Mediterranean is wrestling with similar questions.

The vanishing prospects for the East Med pipeline are as disconcerting for Greece and Cyprus as they are for Israel. Both countries are essential partners in the project. In January 2020, leaders from the three states met in a public demonstration of their commitment to the pipeline (they reportedly signed an agreement but this document has not been made public). Cyprus hoped to link its modest offshore discoveries to the East Med pipeline, and Greece was eager to function as a conduit to Europe. The important difference is that Cyprus’ natural gas fields are not yet operational. In early May, Italy’s ENI, France’s Total, and ExxonMobil announced a year-long suspension of drilling activities in Cyprus’ waters. There are no guarantees that the developers will return with the same interest as they once did, and the remaining export options are costly.

Even operational energy partnerships are facing tough choices. For example, Jordan’s energy arrangement with Israel (45 billion cubic meters over 15 years at an estimated $10 billion) is deeply unpopular because it normalizes ties with a country seen by most Jordanians as a belligerent. With a global energy market that is driving liquid natural gas prices to historic lows, the monarchy is under mounting pressure to find cheaper alternatives. If Israel continues with its plans to partially annex the West Bank, Amman may sacrifice the deal as a symbolic gesture of disapproval even if the underlying causes are economic. Jordan might hope that it could fall back on the United States, as a guarantor in the deal, to cover its debts.

Egypt hoped that offshore discoveries would transform it into a regional energy hub, converting Israeli and Cypriot gas at its liquid natural gas facilities in Idku and Damietta and then shipping them off to Europe. Today, Egypt is struggling to find buyers, has frozen activity at one of its liquid natural gas sites, and cut production at Zohr field. While the Egyptian domestic market is diverse enough to absorb some Israeli imports, this isn’t the long-term arrangement the two parties envisioned some 16 months ago.

No matter where you turn, the Eastern Mediterranean energy picture is bleak. Debt-ridden Lebanon was dismayed by news in late April that initial explorations failed to uncover a meaningful gas field. Politicians in Beirut dreamed that offshore discoveries would deliver an instant economic windfall. But with energy companies announcing a suspension of activities in Cyprus’s waters just a week later — the same companies exploring Lebanese waters — the Lebanese government will have to search elsewhere for a financial bailout.

Meanwhile, Turkey appears to be taking advantage of the regional turmoil by continuing to send exploratory and drilling vessels into Eastern Mediterranean waters. However, these vessels’ purpose is more political than commercial. Spurned by the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum and with no resolution to the Cyprus conflict in sight, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has positioned his military — on land and at sea — to protect Turkish claims to the continental shelf and break what is perceived as strategic containment of Turkey by the region’s actors. Turkish intervention in the Libyan civil war is at least partially driven by Ankara’s desire to break the will of its neighbors and force them into direct negotiations. Not only has this strategy put Turkey at loggerheads with longtime rivals Greece and Cyprus — with whom Turkey shares a long history of maritime boundary disputes — but other actors as well, including the United States.

In the long run, low liquid natural gas prices could become the norm. Some forecast that the present gas glut may continue for nearly a decade as other projects come onto the market. International projects that require costly infrastructure are going to find it difficult to compete with existing liquid natural gas providers and a growing renewable energy industry. Although COVID-19 appears to have undone significant progress in the Eastern Mediterranean, it ironically may have rescued Eastern Mediterranean states from shortsighted investments. Policymakers have benefited from a rare mulligan and can now reassess their regional prospects.

Post-Pandemic Energy Strategy

The first, and most obvious, post-coronavirus strategy, is to keep the gas local. Rather than prioritizing export markets in Europe, the challenge for Eastern Mediterranean states is to diversify their domestic infrastructure and economies to be more gas friendly. This is especially relevant for Egypt, whose domestic demand is only going to increase as its population grows. Emphasizing the regional market will require intense discussions between the main developers and governments to find the appropriate contractual language that suits the involved parties.

But would organizing a regional market assume that all actors can benefit? Over the last decade, offshore hydrocarbons were as much as cause for confrontation between Eastern Mediterranean states as they were an incentive for cooperation. Now that it is clear the gas bonanza won’t arrive as quickly as anticipated, perhaps the region’s actors will consider a recommitment to regional diplomacy and conflict resolution. From the ongoing Libyan civil war to the maritime disputes between Greece and Turkey, there is no shortage of opportunities for those willing to decouple their energy aspirations from their interest in creating a functional regional space.

This is where the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum comes into play. Whereas the forum’s original purpose was to deal with matters pertaining to natural gas, post-COVID it could serve as a platform for discussion on a host of issues, from tourism to environmental protection to pandemic support to alternative energy cooperation and security. If a global pandemic instructs states about anything, it is that neighbors remain neighbors regardless of the boundaries placed between them. In short, it behooves Eastern Mediterranean states to support one another.

America’s Role in the Region

The United States should play a central role in this process. Not only is Washington the preferred mediator for many of the region’s conflicts, but American support for the development of offshore hydrocarbons and regional cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean has been a rare point of bipartisan consensus during both the Obama and Trump administrations, who saw the region’s gas as way to strengthen the position of its Eastern Mediterranean allies while also reducing European dependency on Russian gas. Continued engagement with Eastern Mediterranean actors will allow the United States to guide its partners towards a more cooperative future, help develop deconfliction mechanisms, and discourage interference from outside actors like Russia, Iran, and China.

This should happen in a number of different ways. First, the United States should reengage Eastern Mediterranean states in the process of maritime boundary delimitation. This issue a priority for all of the region’s actors, including European heavyweights France and Italy. In particular, Turkey’s signing of a maritime boundary agreement with Libya’s Government of National Accord in November 2019 sparked considerable protest throughout the region and entangled the ongoing civil war in the Eastern Mediterranean’s energy politics. While the Libyan civil war isn’t the source of all of the region’s tensions, American mediation between the aggrieved parties — notably NATO member states Turkey and Greece — on the issue of maritime boundaries would start rolling back tensions and create a more constructive environment for future negotiations between Turkey and Cyprus. The signing of a maritime boundary agreement between Italy and Greece on June 9 was widely seen as a maneuver to check Turkey’s advance. U.S. diplomats should also encourage Israel and Lebanon to resolve their outstanding maritime issues, which would allow foreign companies to feel more comfortable exploring in Lebanese waters whenever they decide to resume activities. A semi-enclosed maritime space like the Eastern Mediterranean requires delimitation agreements in order to avoid conflict. Ideally, the United States would bring all region’s actors to the negotiating table simultaneously. However, the present conditions necessitate a flexible, hands-on approach to certain disputes.

Additionally, the United States can empower the nascent Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum by investing more diplomatic resources in the organization, and incentivizing collaboration between members states. One way of doing this is by expanding the language of the 2019 Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act (also known as the Menendez-Rubio Bill) in a manner that offers potential avenues for participation by Eastern Mediterranean actors not mentioned in this legislative package, specifically Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, and Turkey. The United States-Eastern Mediterranean Energy Center described in the Menendez-Rubio Bill could be a conduit for multinational research and development in the myriad topics that are directly and indirectly impacted by offshore hydrocarbon exploration. This could open channels of communication between American and Eastern Mediterranean industries, strengthening both economic, cultural, and strategic interests.

Going Forward

For the better part of the last decade, it was expected that energy would transform the Eastern Mediterranean. However, the pandemic’s aftershocks have disrupted the prospects for regional cooperation. A collective pivot — with American support — away from the uncertain promises of energy could be a blessing in disguise. It provides regional states the opportunity to embrace a shared future that emphasizes energy diversification, multinational cooperation, and conflict resolution.

Although the United States appears committed to reducing its presence on the global stage, it should preserve and expand energy-centric multilateral diplomacy in the Eastern Mediterranean that enjoys bipartisan support. The region is rich with American partners — a lasting foreign policy legacy would be finding a formula that would allow them to settle their own disputes and find new ways to cooperate.

 

This article taken from warontherocks.com

This article written by Gabriel Mitchell.

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