Trending Events - Issue 21 - May - June 2017


Heading towards “Open Confrontations” in the Middle East
Wednesday، June 28، 2017

What’s being circulated in Middle East circles is not merely “a war of words” that’s related to political disputes or historical sensitivities or conflicts over statuses. It’s probably “words of war” that are based on estimates related to the escalation of “operations on the ground” that can influence vital interests of major Arab countries. The interactions of active powers in the region are heading towards the phase of open confrontations that will compose the most important features of the region on the short run.

The problem is that all the available literature provide an analysis of what is currently happening, rather than expectations for the upcoming transformation. The region actually represents an arena for operations as there are around 70 conflicts with variable severity. Six of these conflicts are actual wars. There are indications that what will happen will not be “more than what has already happened.” Almost all available approaches may be used, and it’s also possible for some nations to adopt “more strict policies.” No truces will be reached without conditions. Furthermore, there is the least possible and most dangerous development, which is opening arenas for new operations or launching direct confrontations if relevant parties do not agree over amended arrangements for the Middle East’s relations and situation. So what will exactly happen?

First of all, the Arab region has become different in terms of the nature of leaders managing its affairs and their approaches to estimate threats confronting the region, their strategies to deal with security problems, and their preparations to pay whatever price to preserve their security and interests. The biggest mistake, which any analyst can make is to think that this difference is temporary or transitional. It’s also a mistake to think that the past situation should have remained intact, and that no one must preemptively act before threats reach their border or territory threatening the identity of their state or losing an ally forever.

Within this context, it’s worth noting that in the past phase, several meetings were held between regional parties. Sometimes these meetings were unplanned including rival parties and in the presence of significant international parties. Some of these frank talks included few points that can contribute to specifying the features of the upcoming confrontations in the region.

Heading towards Major Capitals

Analyses of many developments in the region have been based on the fact that they are “complex conflicts” including various forms such as asymmetric conflicts,” “hybrid conflicts,” “proxy wars,” “terrorism without leaders” and others. Conflict forms, however, still have the need to go beyond traditional frameworks, which governed them for long periods of time and divided them into conflicts among states and conflicts within states. Some solid analyses of these conflicts stipulate that 90 percent of the latter are within states, i.e. civil conflicts. The Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research (HIIK) in Germany has contributed to this matter via the conflict barometer, it publishes every year. It categorized these conflicts in a complex manner. According to statistics in 2016, HIIK concluded that the world witnessed 401 conflicts. 265 of them are intrastate, 69 are interstate, 54 are sub-state and 13 are trans-state. If we apply this to the region, the situation will be clearer. However what’s important is that intrastate conflicts represent the largest percentage. 

The near future may carry amended orientations in the Middle East, such as moving towards major capitals. Considering the weight of non-state armed actors in conflict zones, there are discussions on how conflicts are in fact happening between major or influential “regional parties.” These discussions also address how nothing will be finalized if they do not head towards capitals and tackle confrontations directly and openly. Most terrorist organizations have countries supporting them and standing behind them. Therefore direct conflicts may erupt among such countries.

There are currently two orientations in this regard:

1. The possibility of maintaining the status quo, which relies on the pattern of the cold war that takes the form of clashes at one point or consensus at another. This is in addition to the traditional form of proxy wars in conflict zones and which tend to be more severe.

2. Possibilities of an amended pattern of conflicts among states. This is closer to direct confrontations, which take the form of limited armed confrontations or which transfer the battle to the rival’s territories or result in wars which no one desires. In all cases, this pattern of direct confrontations among states, as seen through public statements and possible developments, will be part of the future’s features.

Escalating to “the Higher Level”

Traditional theories when analyzing international relations have often addressed interactions with a conflict-related nature. These conflicts have three basic forms as follows:

Debates: They are linked to serious disputes over important interests. Political statements, media campaigns and “diplomatic ties” come to blows within this context. Provocations are common here.

Games: They are related to deep-rooted disputes pertaining to vital interests. This is where states begin using their different tools and wings to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries or pressure them on the economic level or oversee intelligence activity.

Fights: They are about deep-rooted contradictions that seem to be irresolvable unless via violent acts to impose a fait accompli or soften the will of the other party. This is either done directly or through a proxy and it takes the form of violent or armed confrontations.

The second characteristic of the upcoming confrontations is represented in escalating to the higher level.  It is possible for conflicts which take the form of debates to turn into games, and for the ones which take the form of games to intensify to be fights. We must note that the tools and forms of power used in the next level include what has already been present in the previous level. If countries proceed to forcible acts and pressure (games), then this will of course include provocations linked to serious debates. Conflicts will thus become more severe.

What is currently happening supports the possibility of the escalation of confrontations from clashes to containment and from containment to conflicts. Some decided they must not overlook the hostile behavior of some parties, which act in defiance of the common security considerations. They also decided not to withdraw from any arena where there are operations no matter how pressured they are and as long as the problem is not solved. There is the belief that media wars are not the end of this and that threats may be useless without fights. They also think there is no alternative to escalation or anticipation of the possibilities of slipping into direct wars. In general, the region is moving from games to fights.

Getting Accustomed to Using Armed Force

Everyone is aware that using armed force is not an easy matter and that it must be a final option that’s only their final resort when all other options have been exhausted. However when it comes to the region, it is a fact that almost every country has actually headed in the direction of resorting to armed force. This includes countries that were traditionally conservative in this regard. Their forces began operating in arenas, which are far from them as the problem is no longer limited to neighboring countries and it also includes the countries neighboring the latter and even faraway neighbors. This is where crises with spillover effects form.

Everyone has gone beyond geographic limits towards strategic borders after they realized they cannot wait until the enemy reaches their gates. Within this context, everyone began to deal with the specifications, mechanism and problems of using force. Thus, using armed force is no longer ruled out by any party. There are 10 points that indicate possibilities on a large-scale regional scope.

What’s happening in the region indicates there are armed preparations for the worst possibilities. For the first time ever, several parties are thinking about owning armed helicopters’ carriers or sending troops to faraway arenas where there are operations or establishing military bases in vital areas or sealing deals to possess more advanced arms for regular wars and special operations. No means have been ruled out, as nontraditional scenarios are also among the expectations.

End Game

There’s one last question. What is the end of all this? What do Arab countries, which have decided to confront infiltrations and fill the vacuum allowed by Obama’s administration, want? It seems Trump’s administration wants to deal with this vacuum in a different way based on its own conditions. The answer is not difficult, and it is apparent almost everywhere. It’s represented in the following two points:

The first point is to deal with pressures on the Arab region. Imposing a fait accompli and policies to destabilize countries or control them within the context of illusions of power or imperial orientations or “regional games” are unacceptable. Action will be taken against all this even if what it takes is to adopt using the enemies’ very same methods. This is what is being looked into and what different Arab circles have declared.

The second point is related to parties which divide or infiltrate, target, terrorize and alter identities in the Arab region. These parties must go back to their geographic borders in the region or to their ordinary size within the state. This is it, no more, no less while acknowledging their legitimate interests. The issue can thus be limited to ending the “policies of making threats” although there are manifestations of chronic hostility. 

The last question is can Arab countries do so? One of the answers said is: It’s better to be able to. There are always methods to achieve any goal as long as there’s readiness to go to the final stage. The problem is that non-Arab parties and their allies in the region do not act like competitors, but like enemies. Arab capitals strongly believe that there is no option, but to adopt strategies which lead to clashes. They believe that the price of doing nothing is much more than the price of doing something even if this includes losses and results in repercussions. However, there are no inevitabilities. Perhaps at some phase, expressions like “resolving conflicts” and “peaceful co-existence” will somehow surface again. Perhaps they would emerge due to “preparedness for that same confrontation,” as we are in the Middle East.