Shifting Alliances in the Middle East

ANKARA, TURKEY - APRIL 4:  (RUSSIA OUT)   Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L) pose for a photo during their meeting at the presidential palace on April 4, 2018 in Ankara, Turkey.  Russian President Vladimir Putin is having a two-days state visit to Turkey. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)
ANKARA, TURKEY - APRIL 4: (RUSSIA OUT) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L) pose for a photo during their meeting at the presidential palace on April 4, 2018 in Ankara, Turkey. Russian President Vladimir Putin is having a two-days state visit to Turkey. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

What is happening in the Middle East today? The region has been in disarray for quite some time as I laid out in a previous article. However, in the time since that article was written, the Middle East has become even more complex with a series of shifting alliances. What will these newfound partnerships mean for Israel’s security and America’s national security interests?

Last month, Israel formalized the normalization of relations with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates on the lawn of the White House with the signing of the Abraham Accords. In the days following, both President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu said that there would be more states to follow in a bid to normalize relations with the Jewish state. However, the more interesting development is the reaction of other states in the region including the Palestinians, Turkey, and Iran. 

The ongoing conflict in Syria has emboldened both Turkey and Iran to pursue aggressive expansion campaigns throughout the region. Turkey continues to occupy large swaths of territory in Northern Syria, carry out bombing campaigns on Kurdish forces in Iraq and is currently engaged in proxy wars in Libya and Azerbaijan. Iran meanwhile has strengthened their grip on the region through its proxies; Hezbollah, Shia-backed militias in Iraq, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Both Iran and Turkey have also been warming their ties with Hamas, with Iran providing both financing and weapons, and Turkey granting citizenship to senior Hamas officials. Since the announcement of the Abraham Accords, the Palestinian leadership, Turkish President Erdogan, and Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei have all criticized the UAE and Bahrain, while reaffirming their opposition to any Arab state normalizing with Israel. 

What you are starting to see is a realignment of interests for the major players in the Middle East. On one side, you see the gradual warming of relations between Israel and the Sunni Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar) with the backing of the Americans, and on the other side, an alliance forming between the Palestinian factions, Turkey and Iran, with tacit support from Russia when it is convenient to their strategic interests. This pro-Western Israeli/Gulf bloc is being countered by an increasingly anti-Western “Axis of Resistance”. 

These developments have both pros and cons for Israel. On the one hand, the normalization agreements between Israel and these Sunni Gulf states are historic, opening up cooperation on academic, economic, intelligence, and even military fronts. Israel’s leadership has long sought to normalize relations with the Arab states rather than wait for continued disinterest on behalf of the Palestinians to negotiate a peace accord.

Conveniently, Iran’s growing threat to these states has sped up their willingness to work with Israel despite the Palestinian issue being unresolved. However, the warming of these relations has shifted the Palestinians into the Turkey-Iran orbit which creates new security threats for Israel. Iran has long been vocal about its desire to “wipe the Zionist entity off the map” and continues to encircle Israel with Iranian-backed forces. Additionally, Turkey’s Erdogan has hardened his rhetoric, recently claiming that Jerusalem belongs to the Ottomans.  

It was once thought that as the Arab Gulf normalizes with Israel, they could put pressure on the Palestinian leadership to make peace with Israel, using the immense amount of financial assistance these states provide to the Palestinians as leverage. However, with Iran and Turkey looking to further invest in the Palestinian leadership, that cash flow leverage could be greatly reduced, as Turkey and Iran could replace any lost cash flow to Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, while Qatar continues to funnel money to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. This means the Palestinian issue is likely to remain unresolved for the foreseeable future and Israel must confront these new security threats. 

These new developments also create new headaches for the United States. Turkey has been out of step with the American administration and NATO for quite some time, with the purchase of Russian weapon systems, the ongoing attacks against American-backed Kurdish forces, and their hostility toward fellow NATO member Greece. Turkish President Erdogan seems more than willing to abandon traditional Western and NATO interests to further his own imperialistic agenda and support for Islamic extremists such as the Muslim Brotherhood (which Hamas is an offshoot of).

These changing attitudes on behalf of the Turks put the strategically located nation on a collision course with the US and its NATO allies in a relationship that is already quickly deteriorating. If Turkey were to become militarily antagonistic towards Israel, the American administration would find itself stuck between a rock and a hard place, throwing their traditional regional norms into chaos.

This type of escalation could open a pandora’s box of challenges, especially given that Turkey hosts U.S. nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, the American administration has exerted a “maximum pressure” campaign to rein in the Iranian regime, but the resistance of America’s traditional European partners and the warming of Turkey’s relations with Iran complicate the effectiveness of this campaign. 

As these new developments start to take effect, there will be a whole new host of challenges for Israel’s security and America’s foreign policy and national security interests in the region. However, with more normalization agreements in the works and an American election quickly approaching, we could see yet another turn of events in the coming months.

About the Author
Quentin is an LGBTQ and progressive pro-Israel advocate who has spent the last four years in the Israel advocacy space. His writing includes Jewish identity, LGBTQ stories, and navigating the regional conflicts of the MIddle East.
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