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HomeGeopolitical CompassThe LevantOnly the Middle East Can Fix the Middle East

Only the Middle East Can Fix the Middle East

Author: Dalia Dassa Kaye and Sanam Vakil

Affiliation: Senior Fellow at the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations and a Fulbright Schuman Visiting Scholar at Lund University/ Director of Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa Program

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs 

Date/Place: February 1, 2024/ USA

Type of Literature: Analysis 

Word Count: 5000

Link: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/middle-east/fix-middle-east-united-states 

Keywords: Gaza War, Middle East, United States, Regional Powers, MENA Forum, Geopolitical Dynamics

Brief:

The catastrophic war in Gaza in early 2024 marked an important turning point in the Middle East, highlighting not only the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian crisis but also revealing a profound shift in the region’s geopolitical landscape. As the United States retreats from its traditional role, regional powers find themselves at a crossroads, as they face the opportunity and responsibility to advance and chart a path toward peace and stability. This article delves into the evolving dynamics of the Middle East, exploring the diminishing American role, shifting regional alliances, the unifying impact of the Gaza War, and the potential for a permanent regional security forum as a catalyst for long-term cooperation.

Before the Gaza war, the United States signaled a gradual disengagement from the Middle East as it redirected its focus toward the challenges posed by Russia and a rising China. The complexities of the Gaza conflict have accelerated this trend, exposing the limits oب American influence as it struggles to contain the war or broker a permanent ceasefire. This marked decline in US leadership has reshaped regional power dynamics. Surprisingly, the period following the Gaza war revealed the flexibility of recently established regional cooperation. Despite the ongoing crisis, Arab countries, including historical rivals such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have maintained diplomatic relations with Israel. It is noteworthy that Iran has also engaged in high-level talks with Saudi Arabia, which indicates a practical shift in their historically tense relationship. This evolving scene confirms the need for regional powers to play more prominent roles in shaping the future of the Middle East.

Although the war in Gaza highlighted ongoing challenges, it was a powerful catalyst for regional unity. Faced with popular anger and the potential for renewed extremism, the region’s leaders organized their political responses, demanding an immediate ceasefire, opposing the displacement of Palestinians, ensuring humanitarian access to Gaza, and calling for the release of Israeli hostages. This shared commitment, born out of the immediate crisis, may form the basis for potential long-term cooperation.

 

A Call for a Regional Security Forum:

The authors stress the need to establish a permanent framework for regional cooperation in light of the changing dynamics and need for long-term stability in the region. They propose establishing a Middle East and North Africa Forum to serve as a permanent dialogue platform for all key regional stakeholders, including Israel, Iran and Arab countries. This forum is expected to address a range of areas of common interest, such as climate change, energy security and disaster response, while facilitating dialogue on the most controversial issues. By encouraging regular communication and strengthening a sense of shared responsibility, the MENA Forum can play an important role in calming tensions and preventing future conflicts. It can also provide a platform for indirect dialogue between historically antagonistic parties, such as Israel and Iran, and contribute to confidence-building measures and conflict resolution efforts.

Establishing a regional security forum offers a long-term vision as regional powers embrace the future of the Middle East. Despite major challenges, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Yemen war, and external influences, prioritizing regional dialogue and joint action can break the cycle of crises and pave the way for a more peaceful and prosperous future. The current regional reset, characterized by improving relations and the need for shared stability, represents only a limited window of opportunity. Arab countries and leading regional powers, including Turkey, must seize this moment to institutionalize cooperation. Delaying this important step risks a return to old patterns of division and instability. The horrors of the war in Gaza remind us of the terrible cost of inaction. By adopting regional leadership and establishing a specialized security forum, the Middle East can embark on a new path towards a safer and more stable future.

The disastrous war in Gaza in early 2024 was a stark reminder of the growing tensions plaguing the Middle East. Based on an analysis of the evolving dynamics of the region in the post-war period, this article calls for a shift towards regional powers taking a more proactive role in addressing conflicts and promoting stability, especially in light of the decline of American influence.

 

A Waning American Role and Shifting Alliances:

The United States has historically played a dominant role in shaping affairs in the Middle East. However, recent events such as the military intervention in the Gaza war have revealed the extent of America’s declining influence. Despite an initial show of force, the United States’ inability to quickly resolve the conflict or prevent further escalation revealed limitations in its ability to shape regional outcomes. Moreover, the United States is finding it difficult to rally its regional partners behind its diplomatic initiatives, which the author argues is a signal of its diminishing capacity to advance regional agendas. The decline of American influence led to the restructuring of regional alliances. Before the Gaza war, there was a noticeable trend towards increased regional cooperation. Traditional rivals, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, have engaged in cautious diplomatic initiatives, while Arab states reconciled with Qatar out of shared economic interests and recognition of the limits of US intervention.

Despite the heavy losses caused by the Gaza War, it has served as a catalyst for regional cooperation in some respects. In the face of a humanitarian crisis and the risk of further destabilization, regional powers have shown a surprising degree of unity. Calls for a ceasefire, humanitarian aid to Gaza, and the release of hostages resonated across the region and underlined a collective determination to face common challenges. The Gaza War also brought renewed international attention to the Palestinian issue and placed it at the forefront of regional agendas. Although there are still major differences on the path to a solution, Arab countries have proposed various peace initiatives centered on the establishment of a Palestinian state. The renewed focus on a Palestinian state conflict with the priorities of the current Israeli government and underscores the persistent obstacles to achieving a sustainable peace solution.

 

The Need for a Standing Regional Security Forum:

The author highlights the urgent need to create a lasting framework for regional cooperation as the dynamics in the Middle East continue to evolve and stability remains a top priority. They suggest establishing a Middle East and North Africa Forum, bringing together key players like Israel, Iran, and Arab nations for ongoing dialogue. The forum would cover various common interests such as climate change, energy security, and disaster response, while also tackling more contentious issues through open discussion. By promoting regular communication and a sense of shared responsibility, the MENA Forum could help ease tensions and prevent future conflicts. Additionally, it could serve as a platform for indirect talks between historically adversarial parties like Israel and Iran, fostering trust-building measures and conflict resolution efforts. While acknowledging the challenges in establishing such a forum, the author believes that the current regional shift presents a unique chance for progress. They urge major Arab countries and Turkey to seize this opportunity, emphasizing that failing to do so could lead to further chaos and strife. The tragic events in Gaza serve as a poignant reminder of the consequences of inaction. By embracing greater accountability for their security and embracing cooperation, leaders in the Middle East can steer the region towards a new path defined by stability, mutual respect, and a lasting commitment to peace.

In a nutshell, the 2024 Gaza war signals significant changes in the Middle East’s geopolitical landscape, notably the waning influence of the United States. Interestingly, the conflict has sparked collaboration among nations with historical tensions. To capitalize on this positive momentum and ensure lasting stability, there is a pressing need to establish a MENA Forum. This platform would bring together key players to discuss shared issues like climate change and energy security, and foster open dialogue on controversial matters. Stressing the urgency of establishing this forum is crucial. Failure to do so risks a return to old patterns of division and conflict, as seen in the tragic aftermath of the Gaza war. Now is the time for regional leaders to ramp up their efforts, prioritize cooperation, and chart a course towards a safer and more stable future in the Middle East.


By: Mohammed Yaslam Mohammed AL-Shaibah, CIGA Intern

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