New Middle East: Reality and Prospects

Gagik Harutyunyan

Gagik Harutyunyan

An Article by Gagik Harutyunyan, Director of “Noravank” Foundation, published at noravank.am on March 15, 2012

The processes going round Syria and nuclear programme of Iran are the follow-up of the so-called “Arab spring”. At the same time, alongside the commonalities the “Syrian” processes have peculiarities, which were not characteristic of the victorious march of the Arab revolutions. Let us mention that on this, conventional “second” stage, the motives of the actions of big geopolitical actors in the Middle East are even more obvious. It is known that those motives are not stated and they are just presented as a struggle for human rights and political freedoms. But the comparative analyses allow drawing conclusions.

Result of the first phase

It can be stated today that the first phase of the “revolutions” initiated in 2011 is over. Let us try to sum up some results of that phase:

- Libya, in fact, has transformed from a state, which had some political influence and definite level of economic development, into a “territory” with energy resources and groups of population, which are united on different grounds and confront with each other.

- In Egypt, which is considered to be the leader of the Arab world, non-legitimate military “junta” and Islamists who won the elections which were organized in accordance with the norms of democracy came to power. Such a combination on practice deprives this country of prospects of modern development at least in the foreseeable future.

These realities, despite the mechanisms of their formation, coincide in terms of their content and logic with the situation in Iraq after the American intrusion in 2003. This country and its population were broke up according to their ethnic and confessional features, the state structure in fact is not working, and inter-confessional collisions and terrorism has become an everyday occurrences. Hence, Iraq has turned into a “territory” with natural resources much earlier and the issue of its development is as disputable as the one of Libya and Egypt. Today almost everything is done for Syria (and in some scenarios even Iran) to appear in the same situation. It is obvious that this pattern is a result of consecutive strategy. This US “big strategy” has different planes and it pursues different goals and their complex analysis is a separate issue. Particularly, in the context of the developments round Syria and Iran, one of the main motives is the protection of US “number 1” ally in the region – Israel. In the past one could rather often listen to the statements about the intentions to destroy this country and its people. After the transformations taking place in the region since 2003 the number of the countries, which claimed it, has shrunk and such statements can be heard only from the leaders of Iran.

It should be mentioned that there is another definite regularity observed in the regional processes. The aforementioned “territorial” (1) situation has been formed, as we have already said, in consequence of purposeful actions of the US and its allies. But till now they have not faced serious, materialized opposition on behalf of other geopolitical actors. In the current phase the situation has fundamentally changed and it is conditioned by a number of factors.

Syria and Iran – “critical substructure”

Syrian crisis has been brought to the international scene and thus acquired, if one may say so, a kind of “global status”. Previously in the Arab “revolutionary” countries in the confrontation between the authorities and opposition only the latter received military and political as well as economic, information and other support. This support was, as a rule, rendered by the US, European countries, among which France stood out for its activity and Germany for its comparative discretion. Support rendered by the regional countries – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey – and even Al-Qaida (by the way the latter is especially active in the issues regarding Syria) is also crucial.

The situation is different with Syria where the authorities are directly supported by their regional ally Iran. Taking into account the fact that one of the main motives of the “Syrian revolution” is a reduction of influence of Iran in the region, the accord which has been formed between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan should also be taken into consideration. It is remarkable that Syria is getting support from its immediate neigbours – Iraq (in form of militants sent by the leader of Shiites Moktada as-Sadri) and “Hezbollah” from Lebanon.

But the most important is that such global geopolitical actors as Russia and China are also involved in supporting Syrian authorities to some extent. The well-known “veto” of those countries in the UN Security Council have not abolished a possibility of interference into the domestic processes from abroad. It is known that the UN decisions have recently depreciated and lost their significance: it is suffice to remember 2003 when the US invaded Iraq without taking into consideration neither the UN charter nor the opinion of its NATO allies. At the same time the Libyan precedent when an ambiguous UN resolution legitimated NATO intervention is sill fresh in the mind. Russian-Chinese veto did not allow legitimating implementation of the similar scenario in Syria.

It is remarkable that the heated discussions in the UN were followed by the visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia S. Lavrov and the Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service Mikhail Fradkov to Damascus. Later on the Chinese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhai Jun arrived in Damascus. According to media Russia intends to sell to Syria air and missile weapon (the total sum, according to the statements is $4-5 million). And including of Fradkov in the delegation proves the activation of the relations between the special services of two countries. In this aspect it should be mentioned that these services are rather broadly “presented” in Syria and one can often see information about capturing of the citizens of different countries by the conflicting parties. Not only confessional (2) but also religious factor is peculiar for processes taking place in Syria which conditions the activity of the Christian organizations at least on the level of global information field.

Thus, dozens of countries are involved in the processes going on around Syria and Iran. All the elements of Cold War are characteristic of ongoing confrontation – the parties use all the possible means of diplomatic and military, information and psychological, economic and terrorist influence. In particular, the US efficiently use the methods of economic and psychological influence, which proved their value in the Cold war against the USSR. The existing multi-plane situation is conditioned by the following circumstances:

- Formation of multi-polar world embarked on an establishment phase. Though today the US incomparably excel the rest of the geopolitical actors in terms of military might, the political and economic possibilities of this super-power has considerably been restricted. This fact is taken adequately in the United States and the structures which elaborate strategy of the country and plan its policy tend to make use of their “temporal” advantage in order to consolidate positions as much as possible, taking into consideration aggravation of competition under the multi-polarity.

- The situation is taken adequately by the competitors of the US either and they have started demonstrating the signs of “disobedience”. Such a “disobedience” is conditioned not only by the general philosophy of multi-polar world but also by definite estimations. The programme of turning the so-called “New Middle East” into “turbulence territory” (including Afghanistan) implies not only depriving Russia and China of military-political and economic leverages in one of crucial regions but it also threats to “infect” those powers either (3). Hence this project has a definite orientation and currently Iran-Syria “tandem” undermines its realization; this tandem has become a kind of “critical substructure” in the context of geopolitical confrontation.

- The weakest link in the aforementioned “tandem” is Syria; if the US and its allies manage to bear down the resistance of the main regional ally of Iran, it will considerably change the correlation of forces in the region to the detriment of Iran and other geopolitical actors.

Possible developments

Encounters between the governmental forces and “Syrian Freedom Army” (about 20 thousand militants) has been continuing for more than a year and Assad’s rather well armed army which counts about 300 thousand soldiers still manages to control situation to some extent. But if the chaos in the country provides fertile ground for these militants, such situation impedes the governmental institutions from carrying out their functions. That means that the time, in some sense, is on the side of the rebels. This obliges authorities taking rather tough measures which, however, do not bring to the intended result. All of this may bring to the “erosion” of the Syrian state and turn it into a “territory” and a sort of “black hole” which engrosses the resources of its allies in case if no compromises are found even if Assad’s regime is preserved.

The situation is different in case with Iran; economic sanctions and psychological actions directed against this country are based on its nuclear programme. It is known that Israel is very sensitive towards this issue. Undoubtedly, possessing sufficient amount of nuclear weapons this country can deliver heavy counter-strike (or even preventive strike) to the potential enemy. At the same time even several nuclear strikes delivered to the country with such a small territory may become fatal for the entire Jewish state.

Previously Israel treated very tough and resolutely all the countries in the region who tended to possess nuclear weapons. On June 7, 1981 Al-Tuwaitha nuclear center in Iraq built with the help of France was destroyed by the Israeli air forces. It fortuned that Iran, which not only provided Israelis with a detailed map of that territory but also allowed Israeli planes to land in Tabriz, played an important role in those actions. In September 2007 Israel destroyed Syrian nuclear center built with the assistance of North Korea. Most probably Israel would have treated Iran the same way either if it had all the necessary resources and assurance that it would not pay too dear price for it.

Theoretically, option of military destruction of Iran’s nuclear potential is possible only with a direct participation of the US, but in the opinion of the experts, anyway it would demand large-scale and long-term actions, for which even the US is not ready (taking into consideration Afghanistan factor, withdrawal of troops from Iraq and finally pre election period). Under such conditions Cold war strategy carried out in regard to Iran is the optimal if not the only possible. At the same time such an economic and information attack in the multi-polar world is not always that efficient. In spite of rather heavy economic losses Iran managed to resolve the issue of the energy carriers export in rather flexible way. Alongside, despite the manifestation of dissent among a part of the population, especially youth, the overwhelming majority of the Iranian population takes American and Israeli factor with hostility. Hence, unlike pro-western attitude of the USSR population in the period of Cold war, which brought to the collapse of that power, the situation in Iran is different. Conclusion can be drawn that this country can resist to this Cold war for quite a long time. In the context of such a scenario the forecasts of “Stratfor” are remarkable; according to them strained relations between the US and Iran under some conditions may transform into a partnership.

1 The author refrain from using “chaotic” notion as it demands rather broad commentary,

2 Confessional contradictions between Shiites and Sunites are the main tenor of the processes taking place in the region.

3 In this respect it should be mentioned that Russia-China-Iran relations have not turned into a strategic partnership yet and, the prospects of such a partnership seem to be rather vague today. In this aspect the US, Israel, their European and regional partners, which have a rich partnership experience and common political culture, seem to be in more advantageous positions.

Published at: http://www.noravank.am/eng/articles/detail.php?ELEMENT_ID=6353&;print=Y#3_t3_t