What distinguishes the situation in the Middle East is the specific set of crises, disputes, conflicts of various intensity. As a result, all this forms one picture. The US’s withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal, the symbolic dimension of the Middle Eastern politics and the threat of ISIS “reanimation” – Irina Zvyagelskaya, Chief research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, discussed these issues in an interview with valdaiclub.com.
The US’s withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal (also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) aggravated the confrontation between some local centers of power in the Middle East. Some countries, like Israel and Saudi Arabia, reacted positively. There are definitely some actors, who consider this deal unsuccessful, as it freezes the Iranian nuclear program instead of stopping it. According to them, this deal should be more radical. But as we know, any agreements are the results of a compromise, the JCPOA was better than nothing.
It is not about what this “plan of action” contains, but about the more significant question of reliability of international agreements, which cannot be guaranteed due to the US demarche. It is good that other participants have not followed the United States’ example, but the demarche against the JCPOA initiated by Washington is favorable for the radicals.
One can say that Iran became a common enemy for Israel and for most of the Sunni states, including Sunni monarchies. This fact resulted in the rapprochement of Israel with Saudi Arabia against Iran, so far unthinkable. So someone is afraid that because of it the Arab countries, for which the Palestinian problem remained one of the central ones, will not force the settlement, proceeding from the assumption that this long process should not be an obstacle for any practical cooperation. Therefore, it was very important for Hamas to provoke Israel to use military force in order to interrupt its relations with the Arab states.
Israel behaved shortsightedly and extremely in inhuman way, resorting to an absolutely unjustified and excessive use of military force, which caused a wave of condemnations of Israel from international community. However, this did not cause any disruption in Israel-Saudi Arabia relations.
Anyway, it is not excluded in Israel that the US’ withdrawal from the JCPOA will promote and strengthen the radical forces in Iran – which does not meet the interests of Israel. The value of this withdrawal could be nullified due to the growth of radical tendencies.
Middle Eastern symbolism
Apart from practical aspects, one of the specific traits of the Middle Eastern politics is its symbolic dimension. For the Arabs, the Palestinian problem is and will always be number one, which has a great symbolic significance. On the other hand, there are various options for dealing with the problem, and the ideas on timing of its solution are changing.
In terms of the symbolic significance of the gesture, the transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem cannot be overestimated. The US made this decision without the peace process, having isolated the question of Jerusalem’s status from the internationally recognized format of the settlement. Now Israel expects other countries to follow the example of the Americans.
Some Russian politicians consider the possibility of ISIS “reanimation”. The group lost territories, but its ideology, sympathizers and opportunities to mobilize people did not disappear.
ISIS is a strong actor, which emerged due to some traits of the current world order. It is called sometimes the illegitimate offspring of the “Arab spring”, being a specific kind of “protest movement”, popular among those unable to reconcile themselves with reality, and for many, joining it is a mission. The ideology of ISIS, with its "appeals to justice", remains attractive, and the neophytes, inspired by the idea, are not repelled even by its violent and bloody methods.
The main armed forces of ISIS have not gone anyway, since the group built its strategy and tactics on preserving its core. The state borders in the Middle East are rather conditional, they can be crossed easily. Thus, the world community will spend a lot of time dealing with this enemy.