Whenever we look at the regional situation around us, we see Iran and its negative influence, and by contrast we see the Saudis and the Egyptians as firefighters. This is what is happening in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. The roles may vary, and increase or decrease, between Riyadh and Cairo, but these two countries represent the centre of gravity for Arab rationality in the region.
For the Iranians, their strength lies in their insurgent allies; the militias, or through other allies who play a covert role, either by wasting time, providing stances that could complicate the situation further without any significant progress (only to ensure than matters move towards the desired Iranian solution), or by merely acting as a form of painkiller, which doesn’t offer any long term solution to the sick body.
There are two other countries that have a significant impact on the region, both positively and negatively. They are the ambitious state of Turkey, or according to ‘The Economist’ magazine, ‘the China of Europe’, as well as Pakistan. The significance of these countries becomes clear when examining their geographical location, their characteristics, and their components. Turkey borders Iran, Iraq and Syria, and enjoys economic, political and military influence. It also holds a strategic location inside Europe, and is the only member of NATO in the Middle East. Furthermore, its political agenda is clear, in relation to Iraq and other countries in the region. It has clear economic motivations and potential, and an interest in the stability of the region on the whole.
As for Pakistan, it is a nuclear Islamic state, with significant population density, and a close relationship with Saudi Arabia. It borders Afghanistan, a hotbed for terrorism, which it has significant influence over. It also shares a border with Iran. As we said yesterday (that the Turks prioritized their interests over political rhetoric, when agreeing to the NATO missile defense system, which we described as a cunning Turkish move) the Pakistanis are also keen on their alliance with Riyadh. There is a balance of political trust between them and the Saudis, supported by bilateral interests. Therefore, adding to what we said previously, the Saudis and the Egyptians must re-examine their communications, and interactions, with Turkey and Pakistan, and the need to form new alliances, considering the current state of affairs in the Middle East.
If Iran is allied with its militias, and covert states, then Saudi Arabia and Egypt must ally with state institutions, such as Turkey and Pakistan, for the benefit of the region on the whole. Pakistan is vital for the stability of Afghanistan, limiting Iranian interference in the country, or Tehran’s support for the Taliban and al-Qaeda, especially considering the impending U.S. withdrawal. As for Turkey, it has influence in Iraq, Lebanon, and support for the Palestinian cause. Such issues are in dire need of states with clear stances.
Of course, I am not advocating the ‘neighboring states’ proposal, put forth by the Secretary General of the Arab League. This is not a further development of that idea. Rather, this is a call to restructure the Middle East according to the common interests in the region, and according to states, rather than for the benefit of certain sects, parties, or militias. It is not in the interests of the region for Iraq to be a weak state, for Lebanon to be in flames, or for Iran to extend its reach throughout the Middle East. What we must be mindful of here is that Turkey and Pakistan represent a pair of scissors, able to cut the noose that Iran and its allies have tied around the neck of the region.