November 2017 has seen dramatic developments in the Middle East. For the last few months, indications have been that the region has finally gained the upper hand in its three year war against the self-styled “Islamic State” (referred to as Daesh or ISIS) after the liberation of both Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, the capital of the so-called “Islamic State.”
In Iraq, the central government has demonstrated enough political will to project its authority throughout Iraq in the context of the Iraqi constitution. It has successfully, and wisely, dealt with the Kurdistan referendum of September 25, 2017, and forced Massoud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdistan, to beat a retreat from announcing an independent Kurdistan.
In Syria, the government of President Bashar al Assad has been regaining a steady control over Syrian territories with the help of Russia and Iran.
With these successes, the Middle East turned a very destructive page in its modern history, and it seemed that a post–Daesh era was about to set to the relief of the parties concerned. The post-Daesh era would have meant that the policies and the alliances borne out of these failed policies that characterized the last seven years would come to an end, and that a new vision, or, at the very least, new approaches would be adopted by the main belligerents, to deal with the disastrous consequences of those years that have almost seen the near disintegration of major Arab powers.
November 4, 2017 took everyone by surprise. It was an irrefutable proof that the Saudi-Iranian confrontation – that was one of the main drivers for the mayhem in the Middle East in the last few years – is here to stay, and with vehemence, as if the fight against Daesh had put under the carpet the confrontation by proxies be it in Lebanon, Syria, or Yemen.
The Saudis, after they had received the Iraqi prime minister and decided to return their ambassador to Baghdad, opened up a new front against Iran in Lebanon. They invited the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri to Saudi Arabia and less than twenty four hours upon his arrival, he read a letter of resignation from his post, accusing Hezbollah of creating “a state within a state” in his home country, and that Iran is interfering in the domestic affairs of various Arab governments. What was more surprising in his speech was his promise to “cut” Iranian influence in the Middle East. The same day, and according to official Saudi sources, the Riyadh International Airport was targeted by a ballistic missile from the northern part of Yemen populated by the Houthis, Yemen’s Shiites.
Saad Al-Hariri, and after two weeks of his sudden resignation, has not gone back to Lebanon.
He flew to Paris on November 18, based on the invitation of Emmanuel Macron, the French president, who has been playing a significant role in untangling a regional dilemma. Al-Hariri tweeted last week that he would return to Lebanon in a few days. Michel Aoun, the Lebanese president said on Saturday, November 18 that Al-Hariri would be back in Lebanon next Wednesday, November 22 to attend the official celebration of Lebanese independence.
On the eve of his departure to Paris, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, in a joint press conference with his French counterpart Jean-Yves le Drian on Thursday, November 16 in Riyadh, said that there is a “consensus” within the” world community “that Hezbollah must be” dealt with one way or another.” Al-Jubeir added that it is a “terrorist organisation par excellence, and it must disarm.” Furthermore, he left no doubt that his government is trying to form some kind of an international alliance against Hezbollah, and, indirectly, against Iran, its main regional backer.
One major ally in this confrontation with Iran is Israel. For the first time, Israeli Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot gave an interview to an online Saudi paper published last week, in which he said that Israel is prepared to share intelligence information regarding Hezbollah with Saudi Arabia. The two countries share common interests in containing Iran and the pro-Iranian proxies. In this unprecedented interview, the Israeli chief of staff said that “We [Israel] certainly recognise the destabilising influence of Iran. We recognise this …Saudi Arabia recognises it….”
A new chapter is opening in the Middle East, and it is too early to say, whether it would bring security, stability, and prosperity to the region.
Where does Egypt stand in relation to the coming storms in the Middle East?
That is a question that I will deal with in my next article.
Hussein Haridi, Egyptian ambassador and former assistant foreign minister