Witnessing the shock waves of the Brexit vote still reverberating throughout Europe and especially Turkey, the regional powers of the middle east seem to be vying for… peace?
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Being historical allies of the US and new allies in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia have begun discussing normalizing relations between Israel and the region at large. The key concessions are a resolution to the Palestinian conflict and a return to pre-1967 borders, which Israel has claimed to be strategically dubious and indefensible (probably correctly). Israel has sought to normalize relations first with moderate nations such as the Kingdom of Jordan and Egypt.
Israel would like to normalize ties with its moderate Arab neighbors first, with the idea that it would help pressure the Palestinians to arrive at a peace deal with Israel.
Considering the conspicuous absence of the US, middle eastern states have seemingly begun to focus on short-term stability and order in the area. However, it is Russia’s presence and activities in the middle east that indicate the waning influence of the west. Russia has offered an oil market to Israel and arms deals to Egypt after the US cut military aid following the fall of President Mohamed Morsi. But Russia’s most valuable offering, to the entire region, is a real, believable campaign to destroy ISIS and other fundamentalist Islamic groups. The US’s reluctance to coopt such a campaign and an insistence on picking and choosing which terrorists were “moderate” showed that the US’s concern was toppling Assad rather than preventing terrorism. Now that the west is busy trying to get its financial house in order following the Brexit, the rejection of TTIP and GMOs, and a possible disintegration of the EU, Russia is attempting to fill the vacuum. The fact that middle eastern powers are attempting stability, Europe is developing its own continental military outside of NATO, and Japan is rearming signals a lack of confidence in America’s ability to project military force and defend its allies.
On top of that, is there an even larger nexus within this tenuous structure of shifting alliances? As it happens, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt all have Sunni majorities. Syria has a Sunni majority also, but Assad is a member of the smaller Alawite sect. It should be noted that the Erdogan’s would-be usurper, Fethullah Gulen, also studied Sunni Islam, but is non-denominational. Are these indications of a Sunni power bloc?
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A Sunni power bloc could bring stability and order to the region for a short time, but the sectarian conflict could very easily escalate into a regional war in the future. Is there a possibility that Russia is attempting to stabilize the middle east to profit on its oil and gas industry before crude is obsolete? Now that the western bankers have decided to peg the dollar on something other than oil, the race is on.