Geopolitical tussle in west asia and its spillover effects
12/1/2016 | Writing Structure |Qchat
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Major forces contributing and reshaping this conflict
US has been a dominating power in west Asia due to its economic and strategic interests. It wanted oil for its economy and promised security and stability in return to the regional monarchs and despots. US invasion of Iraq in 2003, caused the instability of the region. The invasion not only destroyed the Ba’athist state of Saddam Hussein, but also unsettled the fragile sections, ethnicities and religions within the Iraqi society.
Libya, where US “led from behind” and toppled Muammar Qaddafi, is now ruled by two governments which are at war with several militias, including the Islamic State.
But now US is rebalancing its strategy because of its failure in Iraq, Libya as well as its shale oil boom. Now instead of direct military interventions, US is fighting terror through targeted air strikes, focusing on diplomacy and nuclear non-proliferation, promoting state- and institution-building, balancing American ties between regional rivals, etc.
Saudi Arabia, a long term ally of US is unhappy with current American administration and now wants to pursue its independent military ambitions. In pursuance of their new policy, Saudi Arabia enhanced its role in Syrian civil war. The Saudis stepped up military and economic aid to the rebels, who intensified the civil war and directly or indirectly helped the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate. Also US- Iran nuclear deal is not welcomed by Saudi Arabia because of possible fear of more powerful Iran. Bombing of Yemen is another misadventure of Saudi military interventionism.
Syria is a potential outlet for Iran oil and gas resources into the Mediterranean and onto Europe. Iran has the world’s second-largest gas reserves, is the second-largest Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) producer and a capable military-industrial nation. As an aspiring regional power, it is a potential threat to the Western-allied Sunni Arabs and an obstacle to America’s Afghanistan strategy as well as its access to Central Asia’s and the Caspian basin’s energy wealth. Iran also sits on the mouth of a vital maritime chokepoint — the Strait of Hormuz — through which 35% of the world’s oil tanker traffic passes
There is rise of Kurds as a counterbalance to the Islamic State on the ground. US decided not to send ground troops to Syria and Iraq, it wanted reliant allies on the ground to fight the jihadists . The Iraqi Kurdistan has historically been an American ally. On the Syrian side, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militias of the semi-autonomous Syrian Kurdistan were effectively resisting the Islamic State. YPG is closely associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on the Turkish side, which is described as a “terrorist” group by both Ankara and Washington. Still, the U.S. provided air cover to the YPG in the battles in Kobane and Tal Abyad where the Kurds defeated the Islamic State.
Turkey was upset with the support of Khurd by US. For decades, it tried to suppress the Kurdish rebellion and isolate the Kurdish national question. Often described as a people without a state, the Kurds are scattered across several countries such as Iraq, Syria and Turkey. If Kurds rise as a unified force from the war against Islamic State, that would set back Ankara’s interests. This explains why Turkey started bombing the PKK this year even as it claims to be a part of the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition. The Turkish militarism is actually complicating the Syrian crisis.
Syria is an important ally of Russia. In 2015, Russia attacked in Syria both on Islamic state and Syrian rebel. One explanation of the timing is that the regime was under enormous strain from attacks by multiple enemies and Moscow stepped in to prevent an eventual collapse of the Syrian state. Russia finds an opportunity in the Syrian mess to rebuild Russia’s presence in West Asia. During the Cold War, Egypt and Syria were the two pillars of the Soviet Union’s West Asia policy. When Egypt under President Anwar Sadat shifted towards the American camp in the late 1970s, the Soviet influence in the region diminished. Now, a resurgent Russia is planning to reposition itself in the region through Syria and Iran. The vacuum created by the realignment of the U.S. strategy is providing Russia enough room for maneuvering.
Israel - Palestine Conflict:
There was no slow down in violence between both countries. Even , United Nations has warned that a deadly surge in violence between Israelis and Palestinians is leading them towards a "catastrophe".
Arab Spring protests started as a spontaneous social reaction to dictatorships, those were encroached upon by regional and global heavyweights and transformed into an “interest pusher”, a process which weakened the region’s social balancing further, and even cracked it in some societies. What followed was total disaster.
All eyes are now on whether there would be a ceasefire between the Syrian regime and the rebels next year. If achieved, it would indeed be a breakthrough. But the larger questions on the Islamic State, the Kurdish problem, the Saudi-Iranian cold war, the Russian presence, Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestine and the possibility of instability spreading to other parts of the Arab world, particularly Lebanon and Jordan, will continue to roil 2016 and many more years unless and until the region makes a break with its own violent history.