Thursday, 12 February 2015

ISIS Degraded but Undefeated: How the West's Allies Fell Out.

The online burning alive of a Jordanian pilot by ISIS was intended, as are all its savage actions against hostages, to 'sharpen contradictions' in the Middle East and abroad. They knew the killing would make global news and so reveal to the public in Jordan that their air force was a participant in a 'western crusade'.

The US wants the Gulf states to play a role to show that the war against ISIS is supported by its Arab allies in the region. Yet few of them wish to be associated with it for the obvious reason that until 2014 states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar were funding and supporting Sunni militants in Syria against Assad.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been at odds with each other since the 'Arab Spring' of 2011 when gas rich Qatar swung its support behind the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and Egypt and Islamist forces ranged against Gaddafi in Libya. Britain and France in particular aligned with that for several reasons.

The first was the withdrawal of the US from Iraq and the rise of Sunni democratic Islamists-'the moderates'- presented a chance to reshape the Middle East to suit EU energy diversification agendas and buy good will from the Islamic World. After the bad image caused by Iraq and the 'war on terror' this was deemed imperative.

Turkey's plan for a gas pipeline between Qatar in the Persian Gulf and Eastern Mediterranean was also attractive which is precisely why Iran was intent on backing Assad and why Russia had every interest in blocking that possibility. It also goes towards explaining Western politicians monomania that 'Assad must go'.

This geo-strategy was opposed, however, by Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states and Israel because the prospect of Arab democracy was considered 'destabilising' and would interfere with their rival plans for the strategic control of the region. In particular, Qatari support for Hamas could threaten the goal of tapping Gaza Marine gas reserves.

The coup in Egypt in 2013 restored 'stability' according to those backing it such as the now UN Quartet 'peace envoy' Tony Blair. Unfortunately, it triggered off a backlash among the more radical elements supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and that melded with a nascent uprising in the Sinai Peninsula by Bedouin tribesmen.

The divisions among the Arab states over both Libya and Egypt had an impact on Syria because both Qatar and Saudi Arabia were funding rival jihadi groups against each other as well as in opposition to Assad and the common enemy Iran. This meant ISIS was able to exploit that to gain ground in Syria as the main Sunni force.

While the Gulf states realigned against a threat to all of them surging deeper into Iraq in the summer of 2014, they remain at odds over Libya. Qatar is alleged to be funding Islamist militias while Saudi Arabia is supporting the officially recognised government that is backed by Egypt and contains remnants of Gaddafi's regime.

The brutal fact is that West's allies are not allied with each other which is why they are as wary of ISIS losing just as they are of it winning. Saudi Arabia wants Iranian influence in Iraq and Syria rolled back as much as it does ISIS. But Qatar and Turkey in opposition to Egypt, which they both hate, still want Assad 'to go'.

However, Egypt, Jordan and Israel actually want Assad to stay. For none of these powers have any interest in Turkey or Qatar expanding its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean and opposing Israel's strategy to exploit the gas fields in partnership with those of Cyprus for their own mutually beneficial interest.

Turkey, moreover, is hostile to ISIS being defeated because in practice it fears the threat of Kurdish irredentism taking hold in northern Syria and eventually giving traction to demands for a Greater Kurdistan. Israel, on the other hand, has backed the calls for Kurdish independence from Iraq as a buffer against Iranian influence.

Across the Middle East from the Eastern Mediterranean through to the Persian Gulf new geopolitical rivalries and enmities are arising as a consequence of religious based sectarianism, geopolitical struggles over energy resources and supply routes as well as radical opposition to oppressive autocratic regimes.

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