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
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.