by Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Political scientists use the term "coalition" to describe a form of consolidation achieved by independent entities - countries or political parties, for example - allowing them to work together on a particular issue for a specific period, such as forming a government or fighting a war. It is understood that the members of a coalition to continue to differ, remain separate and maintain their independence, while working together for a period of time because they share a common interest or worldview.
Two coalitions are battling for control of the Middle East. America belongs to neither of them.
There are different levels of unity in a coalition. There are firm, consolidated coalitions on the one hand, and fragile, shaky ones on the other. There are coalitions where the connection between the members is stronger than it is with other bodies and there are coalitions where at times, some of the members are more unified than others. There are even coalitions that include parties who are diametrically opposed or normally hostile to one another, but who agree to lay down their arms temporarily and cooperate on an issue that is important to both.
The Arab world is a laboratory in which all the existing types of coalitions are put to the test and ordinary citizens serve as the guinea pigs.
A coalition usually has a leading, central figure, someone who can forge mutually beneficial agreements with each member while trying to smooth over disagreements, disputes and opposing interests in order to create a wide and unified coalition. That is why one often sees coalition members sparring with one another despite their being members of the same entity.
Middle Eastern coalitions, for example, are made up of local, marginal and external members. The locals are the countries and organizations in the region, the marginal ones are the non-Arab entities in the Middle East – Turkey, Iran and Israel – while the external ones are the USA, Russia and Europe (at present, the EU, but formerly individual countries such as Britain and France).
And today, the Middle East serves as the battleground for a struggle between two coalitions which include every type of member, local, marginal and external.
The Sunni coalition is led secretly by Saudi Arabia, the country that sees itself as the leader of Sunni Islam. Members on various levels of loyalty are Turkey, Qatar, the United Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan and Islamic State which has footholds in Nigeria (Boko Haram), Sinai, Libya and Tunisia. Jordan and Islamic State are at loggerheads ever since Islamic State burned a Jordanian pilot to death and launched threats to conquer Jordan, but their dispute is currently kept on a low flame.
The opposing coalition is headed by Russia, with honorary members the Assad Regime, Iran, Shiite Iraq and Hezbollah, whose joint agenda is fighting the Sunni coalition. Russia is not acting to help the Shiites (it is highly doubtful that a random citizen on the streets of Moscow knows about the Shiite-Sunni conflict) but for strategic reasons. Russia sees Assad as a local foothold on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and the basis for achieving Russia's Middle Eastern aspirations, which include control of a port and over territory.
Other entities have joined Russia – the countries who have done so are Iraq and Iran, the organizations are Lebanon's Hezbollah and Iraq's al Hashd al Shabi – both of them Shiite groups who view Russia as the strong, resolute power in the area, free of political and moral constraints and willing to use its massive power in order to achieve its goals.
The Ayatollahs of Iran and Lebanon's Nasrallah do not share Putin's megalomaniac dreams, but have their own Iranian-Islamist-Shiite dream. At present, they are hitching a ride on the Russian bear's back because, while pursuing his own interests, he is doing the dirty work against the Sunni Saudi coalition and Islamic State for them.
What seemed like the natural order for decades was that the West, led by the United States of America, was on the side of the Saudis and the Emirates who faithfully supplied the West with its energy needs. Starting in the 1950s, America was the power that, through NATO, prevented the USSR from taking over the Gulf States, including the Iran of the Shah.
The picture became clearer after the USSR, to all intents and purposes, annexed Syria and Iraq under a socialist Baath regime, as well as Libya, southern Yemen, and organizations like the PLO, the Popular Front and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Today, the West has left or fled from the struggle for the Middle East and is not part of any coalition. NATO, after its failure in Libya, and the US, after the defeats it suffered in Afghanistan and Iraq, have decided not to enter the Middle Eastern chaos again, and are straddling the fence: they do not back Russia, not after it exposed the West's treachery in Ukraine, but they cannot support the coalition that includes Islamic State. Saudi Arabia, the largest supporter of Islamic State, is left on its own as the main axis and source of economic strength activating the Sunni coalition.
The internal problem shared by the members of the Saudi, Turkish and Islamic State coalition is that ISIS keeps upsetting the apple cart by massacring people in France, the US, Nigeria and other locations, worrying the Europeans and Americans to the core. Marine Le Pen's victory in the local French elections, and Donald Trump's remarks about stopping the immigration of Muslims to the US are evidence of the great fear the West has when it comes to Islam in general, whether Sunni or Shiite. The West keeps out of the Middle Eastern conflict for psychological and practical reasons – it simply has no solution to suggest to the warring sides.
As a result, there is an unbalanced war in progress, between a Shiite coalition with strong global backing, resolute and determined and unfettered by morals and legal constraints – read Russia, and on the other side, the Sunnis, who have no global power willing to join the fight with them. In the long run, it looks like the Shiites will win, especially since Russia's growing intervention makes it a very uneven battle. Putin has no problem flattening cities, villages and towns to ground level, and killing masses of people on the way.
The world stays silent. The UN Human Rights Council is busy with Israel and cannot be disturbed in order to check on Russia's activities.
The West has abandoned Saudi Arabia and its friends, to the point that it is willing to sign an agreement with Iran that allows it to achieve nuclear power – knowing that that power's first assignment will be Saudi Arabia. If Israel is another victim of Iran, Europe will not cry very hard, as long as the petro-billions of Iran continue to turn the motors of European industry and economy.
The West will also not go out of its way to help another NATO member, Turkey, if that country is attacked by Russia, the head of the opposing coalition. Did we say treachery?
Israel, as part of the local geography, cannot afford the luxury of staying out of the Middle Eastern ball park. Netanyahu realized that Russia is the global power that is willing to shed blood and provide funding in the region, and has been doing everything he can to reach understandings with that power. Erdogan did not see it coming and totally destroyed his relations with Russia.
The strange situation that has been created by Israel's standing with Russia puts the Jewish state in a coalition that has as its members Iran and Hezbollah, who came to Assad's aid along with Russia. Does this mean there may be a modus vivendi struck between the Ayatollahs and Israel? Not necessarily, because, as was mentioned above, there are coalitions whose members continue to fight one another, despite the relationship each maintains with the main pillar of the coalition, in this case, Russia.
The West's blindness has allowed the Middle East to become a Russian monopoly, although 25 years ago, when the USSR collapsed, all the experts were sure that the world controlled by the opposing forces of the USSR and the US had turned into a world led by the US alone. In today's Middle East, that situation has reversed itself, and the ruling monopoly is now the one led by Russia. Israel must relate to this development, especially now that the West has turned into a hollow reed and Saudi Arabia is left to fight Russia without the backing of any global power.
Since it has been discovered that the San Bernardino terrorist became a radical Islamist while in Saudi Arabia, the chance that the US will come to that country's aid in its struggle with Russia are very slight. Trump says out loud what many American's feel behind the mask of political correctness: they don't want any Muslims, neither Syrian, Saudi or Iranian. The US has achieved energy independence, so as far as many Americans are concerned, Russia is more than welcome to the Middle East. And if Israel disappears while this happens, another problem will be solved, one that many Americans are heartily sick of hearing about.
Happy Festival of Lights to all.
Written in Hebrew for Arutz Sheva, translated by Rochel Sylvetsky, Arutz Sheva Op-ed and Judaism editor.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.