Political manoeuvring and regrouping in the Middle East is at its highest this year. All the open and no-so-obvious from the first glance diplomatic moves indicate that it is not borders of the region’s countries but the role and influence of regional and international players that is going to be different.
There is an active research within think tanks and much talk and speculation in the media about diplomatic manoeuvres of influential international players in the Middle East occurring recently. This reflects the importance of events and their potential outcomes. Unfortunately, many publications take narrowly framed, one sided and customarily biased approach (especially vis-a-vis certain actors) thus missing the forest behind the trees.
What we are witnessing right now is the reshaping of the Middle East geopolitics. Political crises in Syria and Iraq exacerbated by the war with ISIL, and immediate and potential long-term effects of this to their neighbours and Europe, have forced many regional and global powers to rethink their strategies. It is time of regrouping, making new, even short-term, temporary, one-issue- or one-dimension-focused alliances (like the US-Russia military-diplomatic coordination in Syria). This does not mean or imply in any way that decades-long rivalry, mistrust and (well-found or imaginary) suspicions are taken away or diminished. Neither has it brought immediate change of stands or concessions on issues where deep disagreements persist. But it is definitely a sign of rethinking and finding new, effective ways of adapting to the rapidly changing geopolitical set-up in the Middle East.
In turn, militant Islamist groups don’t spare time experimenting and flexibly adjusting. The recent strategic rebranding of al-Qaeda’s affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra into Jabhat Fateh al-Sham was not merely name-change—it allowed militant Islamist organisation make alliances with rebel/opposition groups in Syria, and being better prepared to reshuffling and stronger in organizational terms, establish themselves as leaders (as they effectively did in breaking the siege of Aleppo) and in essence hijack the political opposition movement. By the way, the name change is also indicative—from ‘The Support Front for the people of the Levant’ to the ‘Front for the Conquest of the Levant’ thus portraying themselves not as an outsider (merely ‘supporter’) but as indispensable part of power game and becoming solely Syrian, local actor and dissociating from all ‘wrongdoings’ of al-Qaeda and other international militant Islamist organisations there and anywhere else. The result is that they are now becoming a recognized political actor and, whether we like it or not—may end up at the negotiation table one day (something that neither other jihadists nor Jabhat al-Nusra had a tiniest chance doing before).
It seems that some players (especially US, Iran, Turkey, and Russia) are becoming more flexible and decided to put immediate solutions before old (and still existing and relevant) odds. They are potential winners from the adjustment. Take, for example, Turkey. Renewing the relations with Israel, Russia and Iran speaks of old ambition but also well-thought out strategy to take advantage of its geographic and geopolitical positioning and thus significantly enhance its role in the region. If played craftily this strategy may well pay off and establish Turkey as key intermediary between the region’s rivals as well as global powers and blocs. It may also give it a higher hand when the independent Kurdistan issue (a lasting concert of Turkey’s) may be on the table (whether in Iraq or Syria) once the war with ISIL finished. In turn, those indecisively shying away from active engagement (like the EU) and/or exhibiting stiffness in approach and decision-making to policy change (like Saudi Arabia) well may lose their influence in the region, when the current crises will eventually settle down (and even before that, considering that crises in the Middle East tend to be long lived).