The MENA region after the US withdrawal in the Greater Middle East

The MENA region after the US withdrawal in the Greater Middle East

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq started now a debate, wwhether the USA will depart from the Greater Middle East and will only focus on the Asian pivot, China and Russia.. A symptom of tis debate is a discussion among Israel´s and NATO´s intelligence chiefs which have different views on that topic as. The Jerusalem Post reports:

“Biden won’t be able to pull US forces from Middle East – ex-Mossad chief

The former spy chiefs expressed a wide range of views on the impacts of the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan on global security issues.

By Yonah Jeremxy Bob

September 12, 2021 21:28

The US will not be able to leave the Middle East even if this is the stated goal of the Biden administration, because Middle East events and crises have a mind of their own, according to former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit.

“The Middle East will not let you leave,” he said.

Shavit’s view was contrasted on a panel with three other former intelligence chiefs, who debated the impact of the Biden administration’swithdrawal from Afghanistan on global security issues, US staying power in the region, and threats from Iran and Hamas.

Speaking at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) in Herzilya on Sunday, the former heads of the Mossad, Shin Bet and IDF intelligence expressed a wide range of views.

Whereas former IDF intelligence chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Aharon Zeevi Farkash and former Shin Bet director Yaakov Peri said that the US was moving toward further reducing its involvement in the Middle East, Shavit said the US would remain, and former Mossad  director Efraim Halevy said the US has not really decided.

“Everyone in the Middle East is waiting for the US to leave,” said Zeevi Farkash, pointing out that the US had already reduced its role in Syria, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region, and that Afghanistan was a dramatic continuation of Washington’s global drawdown, whether from the Middle East or elsewhere.

Peri agreed with Zeevi Farkash, saying that the withdrawal of the West in general and of the US specifically from global security issues beyond their closer spheres of influence are encouraging terror groups to be more aggressive.

Shavit responded that he respects others’ views on the issue, but that while many US administrations had talked about withdrawing from the region, “if the US wants to be No. 1, it cannot leave.”

Staking out a middle ground, Halevy said “the US does not know what it will do. It is not interested in the Middle East, but in global issues,” but at the same time, “the US will not rush out” of the region.

Zeevi Farkash added that his comment about withdrawal related more to the US’s use of force, especially ground forces.

Moving on to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Shavit said he thought that the legacy of the Abraham Accords and current constellation in the region could enable an alliance of Israel, the Sunni states and the US to arrive at a resolution.

Peri was more pessimistic, saying that the next likely major event in the West Bank would be a large “internal succession war for control” of the Palestinian Authority by would-be successors to the aging President Mahmoud Abbas.

The former Shin Bet chief warned that the instability underlying the future of Palestinian leadership meant a resolution was farther off, and that Israel would be stuck in the West Bank for years to come.

Broadly speaking, the intelligence chiefs agreed that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan had strengthened the confidence of Hamas and Hezbollah in their conflict with Israel.

Honing in on Gaza, Zeevi Farkash said that Israel would need to “strike a major blow to Gaza to return deterrence” and stop Hamas from regular rounds of rocket attacks and war.

Halevy said that Israel needed to dialogue with Hamas, recognize that the group has ruled Gaza for 14 years, and that it must reach a long-term understanding even if it would rather the group disappear.

Regarding Iran, Zeevi Farkash said that the former government of Benjamin Netanyahu “facilitated Iran getting to the nuclear threshold… The IAEA has not inspected since February 24.”

The intelligence chiefs expressed a mix of some hope and doubts about how the current government would handle the Iran issue.

Earlier at the conference, NATO Assistant Secretary-General for Intelligence and Security David Cattler explained his personal experience on the day of 9/11.

He said that it was the biggest blow to the US in its history, and that it paved the way for the state of terrorism that currently exists in globally. That terrorism is far from being defeated, he said, and evolving technologies are further empowering the threat and making it harder to counter the terror groups.

The NATO intelligence official said that the heightened online presence of Hamas, al-Qaeda and ISIS makes it easier to recruit and radicalize others going forward, and that only increased cooperation among nation-states can lead to reducing the ever-evolving threat presented by terrorism.

ICT Founder and Executive Director at Reichman University Boaz Ganor highlighted the crucial importance of addressing different kinds of terrorist threats according to their individual qualities, and that Israel and the West needed to understand the differences to combat the capabilities and motivations of lone-wolf terrorists, non-state terror organizations, and state-sponsored terrorists.

Regarding global terror trends, Ganor disputed optimistic predictions, saying these views were overly focused on the reduction of Islamic terror attacks in the West, but ignored the increase in Africa and other areas.

Furthermore, he noted an increase in right-wing extremist terror in the US and other Western countries, especially in the corona era, and that overall terror might increase across the board in the post-pandemic era.

While Iran is a main threat and a still powerful actor, Turkey and Erdogan´s and Qatar´s axis with the Muslim Brotherhoods has been weakened.It looks like that Erdogan might go one step back to regain power in order to expand his Neo Ottoman Empire afterwards. Therefpre The Jerusalem Post analyzes the setback of the Muslim Brotherhood axis, the emergence of the Hellenic axis and what it could mean for the future in the MENA region:

“Will Turkey ditch Muslim Brotherhood to mend ties with Egypt and UAE?

Erdoğan convinced fragmented Islamist opposition-in-exile can no longer be used to intimidate el-Sisi, an analyst says.

By Ksenia Svetlova/ The Media Line

September 12, 2021 23:30

After eight years of hostility, Turkey is engaged in intensive diplomacy with Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, publicly expressing interest in mending ties with these influential Arab states.

Emirati and Egyptian delegations have paid recent visits to Ankara, and by the end of August, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had met with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi as well as with UAE National Security Adviser Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

While Turkey aims to put an end to its regional isolation and improve its economy, the Arab Sunni trio eyes solutions in Libya and Syria, as well as an end to Turkish incitement and support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Is compromise possible and how will it influence existing regional alliances?

Zero friends policy

The relations between Turkey and the Arab countries grew sour during the Arab Spring turmoil when Ankara aligned itself with Muslim Brotherhood movements all across the Middle East. The Muslim Brotherhood seemed victorious back then, celebrating its rise to power in both Tunisia and Egypt.

By 2013, however, everything changed. Another revolutionary wave, as well as army involvement, had removed Muslim Brotherhood Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and soon relations between Cairo and Ankara were halted and ambassadors called back home. Egyptians, as well as their Emirati and Saudi allies, were wary of Turkish and Qatari involvement in Egypt’s internal affairs, while Ankara declined to recognize President el-Sisi’s legitimacy and used various forms of mass media to insult and incite against him.

This rift, however, was much more than a personal vendetta; it was a battle of ideologies. Turkey and Qatar had aligned themselves with the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots, and Ankara turned into a safe haven for thousands of exiled Muslim Brotherhood members, while Egypt and the Gulf states – Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain – waged a fight against forms of political Islam and religious extremism.

The rift was deep and deemed irreconcilable, as Egypt and the UAE grew closer to Greece and Cyprus, forming the so-called Hellenic alliance, holding joint military drills, and expanding cooperation in the energy field. Israel also nurtured its relations with both Greece and Cyprus and with Arab countries.

“Turkey’s growing isolation and shrinking economy brought it to rethink its regional foreign policies,” Dr. Assa Ofir, an expert on Turkish affairs, told The Media Line.

“Ankara is worried about the Hellenic alliance, it’s wary about Greece performing military drills with Emiratis and Saudis and it needs to revive investments in the Turkish economy from these countries. This is the background to what is happening today. Basically, Turkey would like to sabotage the Hellenic alliance and to stop it from growing,” he said. 

Ofir also sees a connection between US elections results and changing regional dynamics, and underlines the tactical nature of the new Turkish approach: “Erdoğan seems to be wary of President Joe Biden and his new policies toward Turkey. That’s what pushes him closer to Egypt and other Arab countries,” he said.

In December 2020, Egypt, Saudi, the UAE, Bahrain, and Qatar signed the AlUla agreement that ended the Arab blockade of Qatar. This reconciliation apparently paved the way for a gradual rapprochement between the Arab states and Turkey, as Qatar offered to facilitate ties between the two sides.

And what’s behind Egypt’s agreement to engage in a dialogue with Ankara?

Haisam Hassanein, a policy analyst and a former Glazer Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, believes Cairo is eyeing two important goals: “Egypt seeks the withdrawal of Turkish forces and allied foreign militiamen from Libya.

“This will allow an internationally backed political process to proceed to end the country’s decades-old civil war. Also, Egypt wants the extradition of 15 members of the Mslim Brotherhood who are wanted in Egypt in connection with terror attacks after Morsi’s 2013 removal,” Hassanein told The Media Line.

Sticks and carrots

Soon after the second round of Egyptian-Turkish talks in Ankara concluded on September 8, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said that despite the progress, “there are some outstanding issues between the two countries,” indicating that if these issues are resolved, the countries could restore their relations by the end of this year.

According to Madbouly, the Libyan file remains the key issue for Egypt. “No country should physically intervene in Libya,” he told journalists in Cairo.

The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, responded by defending his country’s military role in Libya in the local media. “Turkey’s presence in Libya, Syria, and Azerbaijan has redefined political equations and results,” he said.

In the spring, Çavuşoğlu mentioned that his country was ready to sign a deal with Egypt over maritime boundaries in the Eastern Mediterranean, and since then the two sides have been carefully looking for de-escalation.

There is also little doubt that Turkey will remain a staunch supporter of political Islamic movements in the region, even if it tactically dims its involvement, Ofir said.

“They partially muted some anti-Egyptian incitement on Turkish-sponsored channels and closed a few Muslim Brotherhood centers in the countries. However, there are thousands of Muslim Brotherhood exiles who reside in Turkey and carry out their activities from there. This support has an ideological nature,” he said.

Ten years after the spark of the Arab Spring, Turkey-friendly Islamist parties are failing all across the region, being removed from power in Tunisia, losing elections in Morocco, and being unable to recover in Egypt.

According to Hassanein, over the past couple of years, Ankara gradually became convinced that this fragmented Muslim Brotherhood opposition-in-exile was “a losing horse that could no longer be used to intimidate the Egyptian president.” He expects Turkey to no longer allow inflammatory discourse against Egypt, which might result in the departure of some Muslim Brotherhood figures for other destinations, such as Qatar.

While it’s still unclear how far Turkey will go in dimming its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, it is obviously interested in increasing Saudi and Emirati investment in its economy.

Not only the Turkish, but also the Saudi, Emirati, and Egyptian economies have shrunk since the beginning of the pandemic, and all are looking for ways to speed the recovery. Abu Dhabi conglomerate International Holding recently announced that it was seeking investment opportunities in Turkey in sectors including health care, industrial and food processing, and Erdoğan said he was expecting “serious Emirati investment” soon.

For now, it seems that while all sides are ready for gradual de-escalation in order to benefit economically, but that just as in the case with Qatar, the wariness will remain when the ties will grow warmer. The central issues of dispute, Turkey’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as its military presence in Libya and Syria, will still prove hard to resolve.

At the same time, the rapprochement might also affect the future of the Hellenic alliance and the slow development of the East Med natural pipeline designed to deliver natural gas to Europe. 

During the last few months, Turkey has signaled that it is also interested in mending ties with Israel, especially in the sphere of energy. The gaps between Ankara and Jerusalem are still significant, and it remains to be seen whether the current geopolitical developments will also incorporate Turkey-Israel relations in the future.

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