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To Those Predicting Changes in the Middle East

17 October 2015

By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Confusing between end results and facts produces myths. This has been especially evident in much of the news that has circulated lately regarding impending changes in the region. According to these reports the situation in Syria is starting to improve and Russia is finally altering its attitude towards Iran and Bashar Al-Assad. We have also heard that the Houthi retreat in Yemen is the outcome of a deal with ally Iran. Saudi Arabia is abandoning the Syrian opposition and reconciling with Assad. And the Lebanese can now elect a president following the Iranian nuclear deal. Some have even claimed that some of the new stances taken by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi are the result of an Iranian–Gulf reconciliation package and that Saudi Arabia has started to favor Hamas and turned its back on the Palestinian Authority.

Until now, there is no compelling evidence that these changes have indeed taken place and I personally do not believe that any major political or military shifts will take place either.

Those who hurried to analyze the increased political activity over the past few weeks went on to preach that regional and international powers have finally decided to resolve all matters related to Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, and the Gulf.

The problem is that some of us often confuse between information and analysis, between news and opinion. For example, the recent meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Gulf ministers does not necessarily mean there has been a change in attitudes towards the Syrian conflict.

As for Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's statements about Tehran seeking to cooperate and reconcile with the Gulf states, they remain until this moment mere words without anything tangible to back them up—and are most likely a response to US calls for Iran to show a more positive spirit towards its Gulf adversaries so that the latter stop criticizing the nuclear deal. Zarif did not propose anything specific. We are only witnessing a flurry of diplomatic activity, which includes Qatari and Omani efforts to reconcile with Iran. The Iranians themselves do not wish to relinquish their influence in Syria and Iraq, nor do they want to cooperate to resolve the dispute over their position on Lebanon, comparatively a much easier task. As for Yemen, improvements on the political scene were generated by military advances on the ground such as the liberation of Aden and the defeat of the Houthi rebels. It had nothing to do with Iranian political stances.

The most important piece of evidence that proves all these rumors are bogus came from Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir. Speaking in Moscow last week, he said the Kingdom does not accept any solution to the Syrian conflict that involves Assad remaining in power. He said those words quite clearly, while sitting next to his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, who in turn maintained his country's own position, contradicting the view from Riyadh. As for the news that a Syrian security official recently visited Jeddah, this should be seen as being part of routine communications that take place between adversaries. Even if the government in Damascus offered to present a new solution that Saudi Arabia may eventually welcome, the Kingdom does not necessarily have to accept it. The same goes for the visit of exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mishal to Saudi Arabia. It does not mean a change in Riyadh's position, which is based on a legal foundation and clear political interests. Legitimacy goes to the Palestinian Authority; the Hamas government residing in Gaza appears to be a ''lame duck'' administration. Here it is in the Saudi interest to support the legitimate authority and cooperate with other countries in the region, particularly Egypt. Rumors that Iran is unhappy with communications between Riyadh and Gaza are merely a product of Hamas propaganda to make the Saudis turn to them.

It is Iran that does not want a relationship with Hamas, as it is seeking to pass the nuclear deal and offset Israel's opposition to it. Tehran, formerly a member of the ''axis of evil,'' now wants Riyadh to take its place and become a state cooperating with internationally reviled organizations so that Saudi Arabia stands in the extremist camp while Iran joins the moderates!

Let's go back to the surge in fake scenarios about impending major changes in the Middle East. The only new fact is Iran's nuclear deal with the West, and we are yet to know how that will affect the region in the future, whether positively or negatively.

The contentious issues between the countries of the region are deep-rooted. In Syria, the system collapsed with pro- and anti-Iranian terrorist organizations residing there. The war has swept all over the country from Zabadani to Deraa. In Yemen, the Saudi-led campaign has succeeded in helping liberate Aden while the capital Sana'a is about to be besieged. The situation in Iraq is still volatile with fighting going on every day in the west of the country and in parts of Iraq still controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

These conflicts are real and need more than a few diplomatic visits and the fertile imaginations of some journalists in order to be adequately resolved. Only changes in attitudes can produce tangible results.

Al Rashed is the general manager of Al -Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al- Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine, Al Majalla. He is also a senior Columnist in the daily newspapers of Al Madina and Al Bilad. He is a US post-graduate degree in mass communications. He has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai. 


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