The region’s people are looking forward to the Riyadh Summit 2017 and are hopeful that it will find solutions for the region’s problems. This is after these nations are on the verge of reaching a state of despair due to the impasse in the Middle East.
Although the US’ policies in the region are the main reason for most of the Middle East’s problems, the people are still turning to it to put an end to the consequences of these problems. It seems that this situation will continue as is as long as the region’s nations do not have their independent political will and as long as they remain under the control of the current tyrannical regimes.
Saudi Arabia calls for a historical meeting
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia invited 17 Arab and Muslim countries to attend the Riyadh Summit, which has been described as a major historical event. This is not only due to the size and importance of the attending countries, but due to the decisions that are expected to be made during the meeting. This conference is actually three summits; starting with the summit bringing together Trump and King Salman, then the summit with Trump and the Gulf leaders, and finally the summit with all of these figures, along with leaders of other Arab and Muslim countries.
The influential counties that will attend the summit, along with the US and Saudi Arabia, include Turkey, given the fact that it is the strongest country in the region militarily and economically, Egypt, in its capacity as the largest Arab country, and Pakistan, given the fact that it is the only Muslim country with nuclear capabilities. Other significant countries that will be in attendance include Jordan, which is surrounded by countries suffering from war and sectarianism, and Iraq, which has been experiencing a war for the past 14 years and which is likely to be the scene for a new war between influential American-Arab-Muslim countries on one hand and the Iranian influence on the other.
What does the summit represent for the US?
For the US, or, more accurately, for President Donald Trump, this summit will be an adherence to his electoral promises when he referred to the “America First” policy. He will benefit from the billions of dollars generously offered to him by the Gulf in order to restore America’s influence in Iraq, fight Iran and downsize its influence using the region’s Arab and Kurdish soldiers, and will manage his conflict with the Russians in the region by means of his new-old alliances.
Trump will certainly not forget to give his step-daughter, Israel, a share of the spoils. There are hopes that the three Riyadh summits will result in an historical settlement plan for which Trump will extract significant concessions from the Arabs and Muslims in favour of Israel, based on the concept that everyone has the same common enemy. As for Israel, if it wants to tarnish the reputation of any country, it must only claim that it has relations with it in order for these governments to falter in the eyes of their people.
Upon asking him about forming an alliance with Saudi Arabia against Iran in the Middle East, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there is no need to establish one, as it already exists. This was a dirty move on Netanyahu’s part to remove the halo off of Saudi Arabia’s head in the eyes of the region’s nations who see Saudi Arabia as their last hope against the Persian attack led by Iran.
What does the summit represent for the others?
For the Saudis, this summit is a lifesaver thrown to them by Trump, after former US President Barack Obama had almost drowned them when he sold them cheap to the Iranian government. They consider themselves to have won this round, as they have gained someone who will fight for them in exchange for a little or a lot of oil dollars. They also believe that the raging bull, known as Trump, is no different than anyone else and can be tamed with money.
As for the UAE, this summit will be a dangerous challenge for the agenda it wants to use in the region. This is because the green light given to them by Obama may change colours with Trump. Leaks regarding the decisions expected to be made during the summit may not be in favour of the UAE, making Bin Zayed rush over to Washington to show Trump his position and try as hard as possible to guide the US’ plans for the Middle East in the direction that would serve his interests first, and the interests of Iran second. This is even if this requires him to top the price offered to Trump by the Saudis. The UAE is now progressing on a path opposite to that of Saudi, despite the fact that this is not publically apparent from the statements between the leaders of both countries.
The Iraqi government is also fearful of this conference and knows that the political process in Iraq, which was completely geared towards Iran’s interests, will be the first victim of this American-Arab-Muslim alliance. This is especially because Saudi Arabia did not invite Haider Al-Abadi and was satisfied with only inviting President Fuad Masum, whose political role is not as important as Al-Abadi’s and is more of an honorary position. This is a message from Saudi Arabia saying that it has washed its hands of Al-Abadi after recently trying to convince him to be on their side against the Iranian influence in Iraq, but Al-Abadi preferred what Iran had to offer over what Saudi Arabia had.
It seems that Saudi Arabia gave this task to Trump, who will deal with Al-Abadi in a manner fitting his position as prime minister of a country still practically under American occupation and so still has the right to issue orders to the country if required.
These fears have caused Iran’s allies and followers to have violent reactions to this conference, as they have urged Al-Abadi to take actions on the Iraqi Foreign Ministry level to contact the Americans and superpowers to explain the Iraqi perspective. This is so those convening in Riyadh can take into consideration Iraq’s interests, which include it being an important player in the truce and calming the tension between Iran and the US, and between Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as activating dialogue between the Gulf and Iran. Otherwise, Iraq will isolate itself from participating in summits and alliances, making it a direct party in the war against regional neighbouring countries, especially Iran, which stood by Iraq against Daesh (according to them).
What does the summit represent for Iran?
As for Iran, it is certain that all the efforts made by the countries convening in Riyadh are against it and will target it. Therefore, it is monitoring the summit closely, although it is busy with presidential elections and is preparing to submit to the storm, as it usually does. It is looking for which arenas it will give up in order to avoid the wrath of this alliance targeting it. Iran certainly won’t give up Iraq or Syria, where it has progressed in reinforcing its influence.
Therefore, all it can do is sacrifice the Houthis in Yemen or the Bahraini opposition. This offer will definitely tempt the Gulf as long as the fire ignited by Iran is far away from it. This was the same position it had towards the fire in Iraq and then Syria and it did not take any measures to extinguish these fires or even attend to them until the fire reached its borders.
As for the talk circulating about the US reinforcing its military presence in Iraq or Syria, it is a result of purely American plans that have nothing to do with the agreement the US plans to reach with the Arabs. It is not unlikely that Iran would try its old game with the Americans and reach an agreement with them that stipulates dividing influence between the two countries at the expense of the region’s people. This is what they had agreed for in Iraq with the two former American presidents.
Those who are familiar with the history of American-Iranian history will find that it has gone through numerous phases of tension, but this is quickly resolved. This relationship has always been managed by how Iran is committed to the role the successive US administrations want it to play in the Gulf’s security.
If the situation goes the way we expect, then what will the Sunnis do in Iraq or Syria while they see their future being bartered by the Arabs, Americans and Iranians? What will the Turks do while they watch the Arabs and Americans blow in an unfavourable direction for their ships?
The ideal solution for Turkey to maintain its national security and enhance its role in the region, especially in Iraq and Syria, to which it is linked by thousands of kilometres of mutual borders, is to reinforce its relationship with the people of the two countries and to make a new kind of alliance. This alliance should aim to preserve Turkey’s security on one hand and, on the other, preserve the right of the Sunni Arabs in Syria and Iraq to remain in their countries and thwart the Iranian plans targeting their existence.
Translated from Noon Post, 16 May 2017.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.