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Anahita Motazed Rad

November 10th, 2023

Geopolitics of the New Middle East and Its Implications for Iran’s Regional Policy

0 comments | 8 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Anahita Motazed Rad

November 10th, 2023

Geopolitics of the New Middle East and Its Implications for Iran’s Regional Policy

0 comments | 8 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

By Anahita Motazed Rad

Map of the Middle East, 2005. Source: wham cam, Flickr.

While it was supposed that the Middle East is on the trajectory toward prosperity, peace, cooperation, and convergence, Al-Aqsa Storm exposed that the hope for such a landscape may seem optimistic.

Influenced by global developments under a multipolar paradigm, the Middle East has been witnessing significant shifts in its regional dynamics including both overt and covert alignments emerging among key regional powers to reduce tensions, since 2019. The new alignments, some of which have materialised as public alliances, occurred at different levels among Arab countries (Qatar- GCC countries & Saudi Arabia-Syria), Arab and non-Arab (Israel-UAE, Israel-Bahrain & Israel-Morocco, Iran- Saudi Arabia) and Non- Arab countries (Turkey-Israel). All these signs of a new era for the region, including West Asia and the Persian Gulf, are marked by ambitious plans pursued by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.

 What truly stands out among all the players is their unified position on containing Iran. Understanding Iran’s geopolitical position as well as its destructive and belligerent role across the region, all strive to neutralise Iran and restraint its proxy militias across the region. The gravity of the threat posed by Iran and its proxy militias in the past decade stems from the geopolitical rivalry among the trans-regional powers of the United States, China, and Russia. This competition has led to a deep polarisation of the region’s politics and geopolitics and the gradual change in relations between Israel and the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf and Turkey. These relations are currently being put to the challenge in the light of the recent Al-Aqsa storm and its ongoing repercussions.

The first country to partake in containing Iran is Turkey. Considering its unique geopolitical position, Turkey possesses the capacity and the ambition to emerge as an influential player on the global/regional stage. Successive Turkish governments have endeavored to establish a novel framework to increase its regional and global influence. By highlighting its Turkish identity, Turkey aims to extend its cultural sway over the Caucasus and Central Asia. The ‘Council of Turkish States’ (OTS) is a political initiative that aims to make the country a political force that the international powers – namely the US and China – have to take into account.  Turkey has launched other economic initiatives alongside its cultural and political ones, such as the ‘Middle Corridor’, which reaches western China, and the geopolitical ‘corridor of Zanzzor’. These efforts position Turkey as a bridge between East and West, and as the most significant route to Africa especially for China.

Saudi Arabia is the second country that is striving to enhance its effective role in the new regional and international equations, while, containing Iran. Saudi Arabia, as the main energy supplier has expanded its energy trade with China to over 100 billion dollars while investing in refinery projects both in China and India to secure itself as a reliable energy supplier. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has tried to enhance its ties with Israel. A stable and lasting relation might be achievable through economic integration between the two states. The ‘Arab- India Mediterranean Corridor’ is assumed to be the first step in this direction. An issue that, given the ongoing devastating conflict between Israel and Hamas, is likely to be suspended for the foreseeable future.

Since the end of 2020, Saudi Arabia has pursued its national strategy in the field of data and artificial intelligence, with the goal of attracting 20 billion dollars of foreign and domestic investment by 2030. It is in direct competition with the leading regional players including Israel, Iran, Egypt, UAE, Turkey and Qatar. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia is at the top of the world table of ‘Government Strategy of Artificial Intelligence’ in 2023, which shows the country’s commitments and seriousness in implementing the national strategy.

Despite Iran-Saudi Arabia rapprochement, Iran believes that Saudi Arabia has entered a serious competitive game with regional powers and aims to be the dominant power in the region as well as the undisputed leader of the Islamic world. These goals which are in direct conflict with Iran’s regional ambitions and ideological roles. In contrast to many other regional countries that might solely concentrate on envisioning their goals without a resolute commitment to actualise them, Saudi Arabia has demonstrated exceptional proficiency in the execution of its ‘Vision 2030’. The objective is to position the nation as the most accomplished in the region, through diminishing oil dependency, broadening economic diversification, and cultivating various service sectors, including healthcare, infrastructure, education, entertainment, and tourism.

Well aware of all these facts, Iran sees the development of the ‘Abraham Pact’ and the normalisation of relations between Saudi Arabia and other Arab and Islamic countries with Israel as an existential threat. More critically, the new Saudi Arabia whose leadership is currently shared by most Arab countries endangers Iran’s geopolitical, strategic, and ideological significance, influence and prestige in regional and global domains. Hence, Iran perceives the emerging new Middle East and new regional alliances as incongruent with its fundamental interests. Under the current trajectory, the Islamic Republic must relinquish its active role, becoming a passive observer of unfolding events.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is facing a deep legitimacy crisis, endangering its stability after 44 years of theocratic rule. Its existential sources of legitimacy, Islam and the revolution, are being challenged by the growing trends of secularism within the country. Protests highlight widespread discontent with the economic, social, and political conditions which partly stem from its foreign policy – notably the nuclear program and support for regional proxies.

The statements by Iranian senior officials admitting their strong support of Hamas can be seen as an effort to redirect the widespread internal discontent and manage pressures from large-scale civil protests in Iran but, it definitely can be a warning to remind the regional counterparts of Iran’s regional influence due to the clear misalignment of the new Middle East with Iran’s interests as a key regional power.


[To read more on this and everything Middle East, the LSE Middle East Centre Library is now open for browsing and borrowing for LSE students and staff. For more information, please visit the MEC Library page.]

 

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About the author

Anahita Motazed Rad

Anahita Motazed Rad is Visiting Senior Fellow at LSE in the International Relations Department and Associate Fellow at the LSE Middle East Centre and IDEAS/Women in Diplomacy. She focuses her research on the Middle East's response to US-China competition, particularly in relation to Iran's foreign policy. She tweets at @motazedanahita

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