Motivated for Choosing the Study
While Arab countries are going through massive
political change, the role of the United States in the Middle East region is
changing. The political ties between the US and the newly emerging democracies
are likely to be weaker than has been the case under dictatorship. At the same
time, tensions between the US and Iran are rising and getting close to a
the potential outcomes of these developments and to come up with possibilities
for reducing the tensions in the region more effectively, one needs to examine
how the interests and strategies of the actors involved have shaped their
questions are: What are the objectives of the United States in the Middle East?
How do those objectives interact with the interests
of different countries in the region; in particular, those of America’s biggest
adversary, Iran, and the closest US ally, Israel?
What are the options of these stakeholders in
avoiding tension and unnecessary conflict?
How are the
recent political developments in Arab countries influencing these relations and
the possible outcomes?
There is a vast literature that examines the above
questions from various angles across the field of international relations.
This project is an attempt to address these
questions jointly in an interdisciplinary context, taking into account the
economic as well as political dimensions of the US relationships with Middle
Eastern countries in the global context. The project particularly highlights
the role of Iran, Israel, and the GCC in these relationships.
and Strategies of the Key Players
Interests and Strategies
and consumers have a keen interest in ensuring a reliable and efficient flow of
oil. While they mostly prefer lower oil prices, they understand that little can
be done to control the price when it is market driven. However, they are
concerned about supply disruptions and potential holdups by major producers. To
deal with this concern, US policymakers find it necessary to maintain military
and political presence in the Persian Gulf area to ensure that trade routes
remain open and the oil-rich countries there have “friendly” governments. They
are also keen to keep out potential rivals (e.g., Russians, who have
historically tried to extend their influence in the region).
Interests and Strategies
Israel’s objectives and characteristics, there are a number of issues that need
to be listed. To begin with, Israel has been important for Jews generally
around the world as a focal point and symbol of identity. So, they sympathize
with its cause and want to see it survive and prosper. However, realizing this
goal has been a challenge. Formation of Israel was associated with a great deal
of violence and dispossession of a large part of Palestinian population.
Consequently, despite the fact that peoples of different ethnicities and
religions had lived together in that area relatively peacefully for centuries,
Arabs came to see Jewish settlers as their enemies.
Interests and Strategies
interest in its external relations emerges from its need to ensure the security
of its territory and its natural resources (and their marketing options),
especially oil, gas, and marine resources. Some of these resources are shared
across Iran’s borders with its neighbors and have been subject of dispute in
the past. Iran also suffers from a long history of superpower intervention and
manipulation, aimed at gaining leverage over and its policies and resources. At
times foreign forces have invaded parts of Iran or have supported external or
internal proxies to destabilize the country.
and Strategies of Other Major Players: The EU
The EU’s interests and strategies in Middle Eastern
region are similar to those of the US. However, the EU’s interests are much
more focused on economic issues, with the non-oil components also having
somewhat more weight. The EU has a particular interest in helping the Middle
East develop economically and politically so that the immigration pressure from
the region would diminish. In terms of strategic difference, the EU countries
focus more on the North Africa region, while the US is more focused on military
presence in the Persian Gulf, where it is the dominant foreign power
The current interactions among the strategies of the
players in the Middle East have produced a fragile equilibrium that does not
seem to be sustainable.
serious internal and external constraints in reaching accommodation with the
United States. To fend off pressures and threats from the West, especially from
the US, the Islamic Republic has been building its military deterrent
It has also
been developing its nuclear technology, which can give it industrial as well as
potential military advantages. In addition, Iran has tried to find allies
around the world as well as the region’s population. The former part of its
strategy has brought it to rely on China and Russia, while the latter part has
led it to be vocal against the US and Israel.
The leaders of the Islamic Republic do not see much
chance of accommodation with the United States under the current circumstances
because they perceive the US as intent to influence Iran’s internal politics
and undermine it as an independent power. The basis for this perception is
Iran’s own experience under the Shah as well as the situation they observe in
most Arab countries aligned with the US.
The situation might change if the US comes to accept
Iran as an independent power, as it did in the case of China in the 1970s. But,
Iran and the US have not reached such a stage yet. To deal with Iran’s
strategy, the United States has been using its levers around the world to
increase economic and political pressures on Iran.
The pressure on Iran has so far remained focused on
increasingly tougher economic and diplomatic sanctions. Given the internal
coordination difficulties and the prospects of being undermined if it gives in
to the Western pressure, the Islamic Republic has not been in a position to
bargain with the US. Inevitably, it has focused on expanding its military
strength and regional influence to deter a military attach.
Israel, the EU, and the GCC, on the other hand, have grown increasingly wary of
Iran’s path. Most other Arab countries, which are aligned with the US have kept
their distance from Iran, but are not active followers of the US strategy. Most
other countries that are not under direct US influence seem to see Iran not so
much as a threat that they see it as a challenge or even an opportunity.
As a result,
getting them to participate in pressuring Iran further has been difficult for
the US and its allies. Syria and, to some extent, Lebanon have tried to benefit
from their connections with Iran.
This has spanned the US negotiations with the EU, China,
Russia, India, and many other countries. But, these efforts have had limited
success due to the benefits that most of those countries get from maintaining
relations with Iran and because of their interest in keeping Iran as a
bargaining chip in their dealings with the United States.
A possible scenario is that under pressure, Iran
might leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and reinforce the
suspicion that it is developing or has access to nuclear weapons.
drive the US or its allies to rash action, including a pre-emptive military
strike on Iran, with disastrous consequences.
But, it may alternatively create an arms race and
militarized standoff around the Persian Gulf.
This would make oil trade costly and impose
significant economic costs on many people, especially Iran’s population. So,
are there any possible ways that would allow the tensions to diminish and help
establish a more stable and productive equilibrium?
for the Future
The sweeping political change in parts of the Middle
East the Arab Awakening, should change some of the equations in ways that may
help move the equilibrium in less destructive directions.
As a result of the uprisings, new Islamist-oriented
governments should emerge in important parts of the Arab world, especially in
Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen. These regimes are likely to be less friendly
towards the United States and Israel than their undemocratic predecessors.
The new governments should be be more sympathetic towards
Iran, but most probably not in any position to form any alliance the Islamic
Republic. The GCC countries need to adjust their positions closer to those of
the new regimes in the region and, as a result, reduce their cleavages with
Iran. This will reduce the United States’ ability to maneuver against Iran in
the Middle East region.
At the same
time, the US and Israel should be more accommodating towards the Arab public
opinion and show more compromise in their dealings with the Palestinians. This
would take the wind out of Iran’s sales when it comes to the support for the
Palestinian cause and opposition to Israel and the US.