The Middle East’s Dangerous New Hegemonic Confrontation
Although Yemen's Houthi rebels have claimed credit for the sophisticated nighttime strike on Saudi oil facilities last month, the attack was almost certainly launched by Iran. By giving Iran no other option but to demonstrate its military prowess, US President Donald Trump has exposed himself and his Saudi allies as paper tigers.
BERLIN – In the old Middle East, a single overarching conflict – between Israel and the Arab countries – had many fronts, and it was the West’s prerogative to protect the flow of oil to the global economy. In the new Middle East, the defining conflict is a broader struggle among multiple players seeking regional primacy.
This new struggle began when former US President Barack Obama initiated America’s broader withdrawal from the region, but it has intensified under Donald Trump. Obama, at least, had a political vision for the region. With the 2015 Iran nuclear deal having forestalled a nuclear-arms race, he hoped that an easing of sanctions and faster economic growth would permit Iran’s gradual reintegration into the international community over the following decade. Trump, by contrast, has no strategy, and wants to disguise America’s retreat from the region, currently demonstrated in Syria by the open betrayal of the Kurds, with militant rhetoric and massive arms exports to US partners and allies in the Gulf.
For its part, Saudi Arabia, the region’s wealthy, predominantly Sunni power (if one doesn’t count Turkey), has long harbored ambitions for regional hegemony – at least in the Persian Gulf and on the Arabian Peninsula – and views predominantly Shia Iran as its main rival. For the past few years, Iran and Saudi Arabia have been waging a disastrous proxy war in Yemen, resulting in a massive toll of civilian casualties and a humanitarian catastrophe.