Proxy Wars in the Middle East
Dr Marcin Styszynski
Professeur assistant à l’université Adam Mickiewicz de Poznan (Département des études arabes et islamiques). Il est également membre du corps diplomatique de la République de Pologne, de l’Association polonaise de rhétorique et du Collège des conseillers internationaux du CF2R.
Recent developments in the Middle East, including Gulf countries demonstrate growing proxy wars between the regional superpowers: Saudi Arabia, which is supported by the US and Iran allied with Russia. This type of conflict relies on warfare in neighboring countries instead of direct combats with the enemy. In fact, the alternative conflicts avoid disastrous consequences of conventional war and they put pressure on opponents. Moreover, the proxy war in the Middle East relies on Shia-Sunni religious disputes which enable to justify and define certain zones of political, economic and military influences according to Shia or Sunni populations in particular countries.
Recently, Iran has established its final presence in Syria, especially after the pact between Russia, Turkey and Iran including Al-Assad regime. The new allies started talks in Sochi and they agreed to divide their influences in strategic territories and provinces in Syria. In fact, the defeat of ISIS’ structures in Syria and failures or withdrawal of Islamist insurgents reinforced the pact. The alliance launched new approaches in the Middle East and reinforced the Iranian-Russian domination in the Mediterranean countries like Lebanon, Palestine or Iraq with major Shia populations. The Russian military base in Syrian coast of Tartus is a good example in this context. Besides, the cooperation between the new allies is encouraged by future exploitation of rich mineral resources such as gas and petrol in the Mediterranean Sea.
On the opposite side, some efforts are headed by so-called the “quartet” composed of Sunni ruled countries like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. They are supported by the US and other Western countries. For example, this political block has different point of view toward the Syrian conflict, especially in the context of Al-Assad political future or involvement of various political and ideological forces in the peace process.The polarization between the two blocks is also obvious in other parts of the Middle East. For instance, in Yemen Houthi militias supported by Iran have been fighting since 2015 with government forces in Aden represented by president Abdu Mansur Hadi who is supported by Saudi Arabia and international communities. The situation reached an impasse, especially after the death of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh who was killed by Houthis on December 4, 2017. The situation became worse after the launch of ballistic missiles fired on November 4, 2017 at towards an area near Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport and al-Yamama royal palace in Riyadh on December 19, 2017. However, fights in Yemen have intensified and numbers of causalities have increased as well. Peace negotiations were blocked and reconciliation missions of the UN representatives are still unsuccessful.GCC countries are also affected by Qatar crisis, which weakens the stability of the organization and membership of each country. The crisis is exploited by Iran, which provides with food or medical supplies. Tehran also declared that it is ready to intensify bilateral relations with Doha. Qatari monarchy has also decided to withdraw its troops from Yemen. Moreover, the Qatar crisis might be used by US opponent in the Gulf- Russia, which tries expand its economic presence in the Gulf, especially in exploitation of Qatari gas fields shared by Iran. The long-term Russian scenario in the Middle East assumes expansion of gas pipelines from the Gulf through gas fields in Iraq, Iran or Syria and the Mediterranean Sea. This scenario creates potential threats and economic competitions for other Gulf States and their Western allies. Bahrain also became a new arena of competition. On November 10, 2017 the major oil pipelines in the country was attacked by Shia insurgents. Saudi security forces captured some rebels and accused Iran of coordination of the attack.Moreover, Shia populations living in the Eastern Province in Saudi Arabia also became a useful platform for foreign interferences of Iran. The regular attacks against local security services in Qatif city and surveillance of local Shia clerics aim at destabilizing the situation of the Kingdom. For example, in December 2016 the local Shia cleric Mohammad al-Jirani was kidnapped by unknown group. According to investigations al-Jirani supported local Shia interests instead of Shia populations living abroad. Recently, Saudi police has captured two insurgents involved in series of terrorist activities. Moreover, Al-Jirani was killed in late December 2017 by an unknown group acting in the region of Qatif.To sum up, it should be noted that the international community are forced to recognize the new Middle East order that defines certain geopolitical zones of influences according to regional and Western interests. Paradoxically, the proxy wars are still better than conventional fights that could cause terrible and irreversible consequences for international security.