(Project of the Kajima Institute of International Peace)

A Destabilized Middle East (Abstract)

Koichiro Tanaka
Professor, Keio University

(This paper was prepared by the SSDP secretary as an abstract for Mr.Tanaka's lecture in December 2017)

There are three aspects for observing the Middle East from a geopolitical viewpoint.

Firstly, what does the Middle East mean for other countries? For Japan it is an area where oil and gas resources are abundant while for Europe the area is special due to Jerusalem. Secondary, the area includes crucial chokepoints such as the Holmes Strait and the Bab al-Mandab Strait. Thirdly, the area represents an unstable front, which has been called the Arc of instability, the Axis of Evil, or the Shiite Crescent. It is interesting that the US military bases are located in the outer edge of the area.

Traditional sources for the instability are religious conflicts, energy issues and sovereignty disputes. Development of weapons of mass destruction and failed state problems should also to be listed.

A new element for the instability was added recently. The US abandoned its ally, Egypt after the Arab Uprising (Spring) and Gulf monarchies feared they could be next. The US has reduced its commitment to the Middle East with its shale gas revolution. The Obama doctrine resulted in Iran becoming a large power and a strong source of distrust in the US in the region made the countries engage in independent but aggressive diplomacies.

The Trump administration issued the immigration restriction order on Muslims and declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The US is seen to have abandoned its traditional policy, the "Two State Solution", and strengthen its alliance with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel. These are an absolute refutal of Obama's line.

The Trump administration exported many weapons to Saudi Arabia while it sold many more weapons to Israel. Strengthening Saudi Arabia's military capability led to the result that Iran became actively engaged in ballistic missile development. We can now see regional competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran which makes the Middle East situation complicated and unstable.

President Trump ignores human right problems. In Bahrain the oppression of the Shiite is becoming serious. Saudi Arabia conducted a wild attack on Yemen. Nobody focuses the fact that human rights are now ignored in Egypt. These could trigger a second "Arab Uprising".

Saudi Arabia is suffering from a large budget deficit through its purchases of many weapons from the US, which could lead to Saudi discontent in the future. "The Arab NATO" now under discussion, that is seen as a substantial network of the Sunni against terrorism will be aborted.

We will see confusion in the Middle East in the near future.

In the past six months various events have taken place one after others: a blockade of Qatar, Saudi's requests of thirteen conditions that Qatar cannot at all accept, Aljazeera's refutations against Saudi Arabia and a large amount of restraint of leaders in Saudi Arabia. Crown Prince Mohammed bin. Salman is leading a corruption crackdown by restraining powerful political leaders and business men and is seeking to control the influential media.

At the same time Saudi Arabia has attacked Iran, Russia and the US with a low oil price strategy, has contained the Shiite and the Hezbollah, and intervened in Yemen and Syria. It resulted in a severe Saudi-Iranian rivalry. Crown Prince Salman condemned the Iran's top leader Khamenei as a Middle East Hitler and Iran called for the eradication of the Wahab (Saudi's state religion).

As a result, cross-strait relations (between Iran and Saudi Arabia) have become difficult. Now a significant alliance among the US, Saudi and Israel has emerged. Particularly US-Israel ties have recently been strengthened. The confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia has become very serious. Iran defines the US as the largest threat while Saudi Arabia sees Iran as the biggest threat.

We can see that the political paradigm in the Middle East is changing. In a traditional perspective Saudi Arabia and Israel cannot work together. Saudi Arabia has countered Iran by using its network with the Afghan's Al Qaeda and the Iraqi Sunni, but both were repeled by the US. The US commitment to the Middle East has declined. Israel and Saudi Arabia have formed a "United Front against Iran" due to the principle that my enemy's enemy is my friend.

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