A new bloc is emerging in the greater Middle East with the declared objectives of dominating the entire Arab world, confronting and containing the US and its allies; and controlling and benefiting from the entire hydro-carbon economy, from production to transportation.
The leading members of the new bloc are Turkey, Iran, and Qatar; with Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan submitting to the new bloc.
Russian experts call the new bloc “the Middle Eastern Entente”.
The key to the success of the bloc is the emerging correlation of influence of the great powers in the aftermath of the wars in Syria and Iraq. Russia and the People’s Republic of China are ready to compromise with the regional powers in order to secure their vital and global interests, while the US, Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, Israel, are the nemeses of the bloc.
Summer 2017 initiated a myriad of bilat-eral and trilateral discussions with Iran and Turkey after Saudi Arabia and the GCC allies imposed the siege on Qatar in June of that year. However, it was not until the second half of 2018, with the initial impact of the siege largely ameliorated, that the long-term post-war posture of the greater Middle East became a major priority.
It was then that Doha, Tehran, and Ankara started talking about forming a coherent strategic bloc.
It did not take long for the three powers to realize that for such a bloc to succeed it must focus on security issues and not just economic issues.
Iran was the dominant force in this phase.
The last decisive push for the Arab integration took place during Bashar al-Assad’s visit to Tehran on Feb-ruary 25, 2019. There, he submitted to the demands of the Iranian mullahs and to tight supervision by Teh-ran. Significantly, during his stay in Tehran, Assad was constantly escorted by Qassem Soleimani, Mahmoud Alavi, and Ali Akbar Velayati, who attended all his meetings with Iranian leaders. In Tehran, Assad commit-ted to supporting the new bloc and to support the greater Middle East the bloc members were trying to create.
The geo-strategic and geo-economic objectives of the bloc are huge, and, as things stand in late March 2019, largely attainable.
On March 18, 2019, the military commanders of Iran, Syria, and Iraq convened in Damascus in order to discuss long-term strategic and operational cooperation. The delegations were led by Mohammad Bagheri (Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces), Ali Abdullah Ayyoub (the Syrian Defense Minister), and Othman al-Ghanmi (Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Military). Officially, the summit addressed coordination in counter-terrorism operations, joint securing and opening of borders, and restoring Damascus’ control over the en-tire Syrian territory.
The long-term strategic infrastructure envisioned by “the Middle Eastern Entente” reflected the grand-strategic aspirations of Iran and Turkey.
The key arteries would be from Iran to the shores of the Mediterranean, and from western Turkey to the Red Sea and the Hijaz. Ultimately, these roads would be supplanted by railways. Iran and Iraq have already started constructing the railway line from the Shalamcheh border crossing to Basra in Iraq.
Both Beijing and Moscow are most interested in the speedy completion of these rail-lines as part of the extended Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Taken together, the transportation cooperation agreement between the three bloc members (Qatar, Iran, and Turkey), and the transportation agreement between Iran, Iraq, and Syria, provide for a road and rail-way system linking all these states. This makes Iran the lynchpin of the regional transportation networks, and, thus, a crucial purveyor of access for the PRC. Indeed, PRC senior officials consider Iran to be “a key pivot to China’s BRI in the region”.
Russian experts explained in late December 2018 that “Turkey, Iran, and Qatar are moving in a direct course towards creating a full-fledged alliance in the Middle East, threatening to make serious adjustments to the status quo in the region.”
At the same time, Russia is still the main great power in the region, and the facilitator of the PRC’s access and development projects.
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