Trouble signs are cropping up everywhere.

Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash.

The announcement last week that Saudi Arabia is on a path to normalize diplomatic ties with Israel was met with surprise and trepidation. Many foreign policy experts and U.S. officials undoubtedly breathed a long sigh of relief at the news.

In the Middle East and Africa, there is trouble brewing. Nations committed to regional peace, free trade, and responsible policy may need each other more than ever in the coming months and years.

Threats are growing on all sides.

With Afghanistan destabilized and on the verge of a nationwide catastrophe, the Taliban has received U.S. humanitarian largesse courtesy of the Biden Administration to the tune of $2.35 billion.

President Biden may be making the best of a bad situation — with the choice between supporting the Afghan people with humanitarian aid through the Taliban or providing no aid being no choice at all — but some of those funds are bound to wind up funding terrorism.

All this is coming on the heels of Congressional hearings on Biden’s disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal. Some of the revelations have been particularly devastating.

The next generation of ISIS and Al Quaeda are hard at work creating chaos and sowing terror across the region. Worse, the blight of jihadist terrorism appears to be spreading.

Nor is the growing threat of terrorism likely to be confined strictly to the Middle East and Africa.

65 Afghan terrorists were let into the U.S. after Biden’s chaotic withdrawal: Prisoner freed by the Taliban and men who planted IEDS got through dire vetting process,” reported Wills Robinson for The Daily Mail in an exclusive on August 13, 2023.

Meanwhile, Iran is getting very close to nuclear-capable.

Iran close to testing nuclear weapons for first time,” reported Benjamin Weinthal for the Jerusalem Post on August 11, 2023, “citing a series of shocking European intelligence reports released in 2023.”

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is close to possibly testing a nuclear weapons device and has sought to obtain illicit technology for its active atomic weapons program,” warned Weinthal. “The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) first published translations of the intelligence documents on its website. The Jerusalem Post is the first Israeli newspaper to report on the intelligence finding from the Netherlands, Sweden, and Germany.”

Elsewhere in the region, even farther afield, all is not well either.

The recent coup in Niger was very unusual.

After a two-hour recent meeting she described as, “extremely frank and at times quite difficult,” Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland didn’t get very far with the successful coup plotters. Very little came of her diplomatic mission to Niger.

Niger coup leaders refuse to let senior U.S. diplomat meet with deposed president,” reported POLITICO last week, adding that they were, “unreceptive to U.S. pressure to return the country to civilian rule.”

The short version is that the former government of Niger was friendly with the U.S. and the new one is more allied toward Russian President Vladimir Putin. The last government helped make Niger a regional bulwark against terrorism; the new government seems far less likely to do so.

The allied relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia — two modern powerhouses of military and economic might — is one of the few bright spots on the horizon.

A formal diplomatic relationship between the two nations would represent a new chapter in the history of the Middle East. Though Saudi Arabia also made a kind of peace with Iran recently, this first step with Israel signals a commitment to regional peace beyond the slow dance of appeasement and embargoes with Iran.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have a very complex history and relationship. Differences — and similarities — run deep.

The Shia-Sunni divide has played a significant role in shaping the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The predominantly Sunni Saudi Arabia has often been wary of Iran’s growing influence in the region, particularly due to its support for Shia communities in various countries.

Like the more recent Afghanistan War, the Iran-Iraq War had a major impact on the region. Saudi Arabia, along with other Gulf states, supported Iraq during the conflict due to concerns about the spread of Iran’s revolutionary ideals. This further strained Saudi-Iran relations.

Now, the same might prove true with Afghanistan — with Saudi Arabia again standing as a bulwark against the sort of extremism in which Iran’s government — and its proxies — often engage in the name of religion.

Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have often been involved in supporting opposing sides in regional conflicts, often using proxy groups. This has been seen in conflicts like Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq.

The negotiation and signing of the Iran Nuclear Deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) in 2015 strained relations further, as Saudi Arabia, expressed concerns about the deal’s impact on regional dynamics.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have backed opposing sides in the ongoing conflict in Yemen. Saudi Arabia supports the Yemeni government, while Iran supports the Houthi rebels. The Yemen conflict has heightened tensions between the two countries.

With Iran growing stronger, and Saudi Arabia moving to counterbalance it with the help of Israel, the Middle East may be in for a shaky period.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)