On one hand, Middle Eastern countries have a prosperous, peaceful future in the global marketplace; on the other are forces determined to tear it apart.
When the Abraham Accords were signed in 2020, it signaled a new era in Middle Eastern politics and diplomacy. Not much has been made of it in the press since the historic accord brought improved relations between Israel and its Middle Eastern neighbors.
Before the Abraham Accords, it had been decades since the last Middle Eastern nation chose to normalize diplomatic ties with Israel. Since the Abraham Accords, another nation has joined.
None of it could have happened without the tacit approval of what is arguably the most powerful political superstate in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia.
In December of 2020, officials from Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates celebrated and cemented the Abraham Accords by attending Hanukkah celebrations in Jerusalem at the Western Wall.
Arab nations like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and others are still opposed to Israel in the Palestinian conflict. That they have been willing to set that single, decades-old issue aside to strengthen their overall ties to Israel speaks volumes about the state of the Middle East.
Middle Eastern nations softening towards Israel have been doing so for some time due to a number of factors. Chief among these factors are Iran, the rise of Islamist terrorist groups and a surge in terror attacks across the region.
Groups like ISIS have risen to absolutely terrify sovereign Muslim-majority nations with its prevalence, shadowy finances, and willingness to murder fellow co-religionists, to say nothing of religious minorities.
While these groups have occasionally risen to threaten the United States and the European Union, it is Middle Eastern, Muslim-majority nations which have borne the brunt of terrorist attacks in recent years.
On the other hand, Israel isn’t trying to overthrow governments it has labeled “apostate” in neighboring nations. Israel isn’t funding terrorist organizations to act as proxy.
Israel is instead an invaluable trading partner, a budding technological giant with advances in water-desalinization and clean energy which could really help Muslim nations coping with some of the very same geographical and meteorological complications Israel is facing.
ISIS and Iran can offer nothing of the kind.
Iran represents the past; a relentless slide backwards into medieval penal and legal codes, repressive regimes, extremism and religious persecution. Israel represents the future; a tiny democratic think tank at the forefront of technology, a haven for start-ups and major mover on the global marketplace.
American interventionism in the Middle East seems to have run its course, at least for the time being. Perhaps it always was an outside-in approach destined to never run smooth. The U.S. public’s appetite for war it possibly at its lowest ebb yet. Europe’s ruling class is more concerned about the Russian invasion of Ukraine than Iran.
10 years ago would have been the best time for Middle Eastern nations, including Israel, to form a stronger coalition for mutual protection and economic benefit.
Now is the next best time.
The lure of extremists only becomes stronger during periods of economic downturn and upheaval. Over the past two years, the global community has seen both. And we are hardly out of the woods yet.
Turkey in particular has been very hard hit by the same inflationary pressures other nations are experiencing, only on a much larger scale. Heavily dependent on Russia and Ukraine, and deeply tangled in the current conflict between the two, the inflation rate in Turkey is currently at a whopping 70%.
Food prices in Turkey have gone up 89%, the cost of transportation has gone up 106%. The Turkish lira has lost 44% of its value compared to the dollar.
“The consumer price index has risen by 69.97 percent year-on-year in April compared with 61.14 percent in March,” admitted Al Jazeera on May 5, 2022, calling it a, “huge challenge to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose unconventional economic polices are often blamed for the economic turmoil.”
It has already been enough to threaten the presidency of President Erdogan.
“In one poll after another, Turkey’s most respected pollsters have seen a sharp decline in the vote share of the People’s Alliance,” reported Pinar Tremblay for the AL-Monitor today. “The People’s Alliance is the electoral coalition established in February 2018 between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ultranationalist ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).”
Ironically, Iran is also experiencing record-level inflation and soaring costs. Prices on food staples have soared by as much as 300% in some areas. There have been riots and people are starting to panic.
In the midst of this economic crisis, the Iran, ISIS and the Islamist State stands ready to exploit this opportunity to sow dissent, grow their ranks, extort more money and commit more terrorism.
In recent news, the Islamist State has claimed responsibility for an attack on a water-pumping station near the Suez Canal. The Suez Canal is much more than something which could, “affect global trade,” as the AI Monitor put it.
The Suez Canal is a symbol of peace, of trade and cooperation in the global marketplace.
Given this threat, there are already hopeful signs that Middle Eastern powers are ready for a greater degree of cooperation.
After years of strained and frozen diplomacy, much worsened by the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Turkish embassy in 2019, President Erdogan visited Saudi Arabia in April, ostensibly to mend ties.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia are two of the most powerful nations in the region. Their close cooperation is good for the citizens of both nations. They are also two Sunni Muslim countries facing the prospect of a Shia Muslim Iran getting the bomb.
Other nations like India and Pakistan are in danger from a nuclear Iran as well.
What the extremist government in Iran has done to its own people should tell the world how little it should be trusted with nuclear weapons. Iran’s rulers have long acted by proxy to destabilize the region; they will not hesitate to use the threat of nuclear warfare to blackmail the leaders of other nations into submission.
Groups like ISIS have a long history of destroying important religious sites as well as taking aim at economic interests and innocent people. A nuclear Iran will mean every religious site of significance to the three major Abrahamic religions will be under constant threat of destruction.
Extremists like the ruling party of Iran are fond of murdering dissenters, journalists, comedians, and anyone else who threatens their stranglehold on power or disobeys them.
They can only thrive under certain conditions: Isolation and poverty are an indispensable part of it.
To resist these forces, to endure the economic tests these next years are likely to bring, Middle Eastern nations and their rulers must do as America’s founding father Ben Franklin once advised his fellow compatriots to do in standing up to tyranny and subjugation: “We must hang together, or we will surely hang separately.”
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)