The Arab Gulf states and the Levant which is also called MENA or Middle East North African region is in a brink of war. Israel accuses Iraqi forces based in Syria behind the firing of 20 rockets unto the Golan Heights–the scene where Israelis and Palestinians are currently engaged in armed encounters. Fresh fighting is happening in the Levant after US President Donald Trump issued an executive proclamation declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. For years, both Palestinian Arabs and Israelis have been fighting over which state “deserves” or “owns” Jerusalem as its capital. That sparked the Arab-Israeli wars in the past which necessitated the creation of Resolution 181 which partitioned Jerusalem into two parts—the East and the West. Though many sees Resolution 181 as “unjust” for the Palestinians because it led to the creation of the State of Israel, nonetheless since the late fifties, residents of Jerusalem regardless of being a Jew or a non-Jew had accepted it and had lived with it for decades. Within Jerusalem, there is peace. Outside of its walls, it’s another matter altogether.
Arab Gulf states which took part in the Arab-Israeli wars see things differently. Since most of them are post-colonial states, identity assumes a dominant thinking over other things. Arab identity had since assumed ascendancy, and being thus, the Palestinian Question remains central to the region. It has become a traditional symbol of the fight for Arab identity, of this identity entirely separate from the West, its former colonial masters.
That explains why Arab Gulf states think of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a serious matter to them. The Solomonic solution undertaken by the United Nations (UN) remains problematic on both sides not just because of the symbolic significance a victory at one side brings, it likewise increases the scope of power such a victory over the other brings. With the growth of population and urbanisation comes the need for more territory. This is a reality which both states, the State of Israel and the Palestinians face. As this conflict becomes highly intractable, the more it assumes a fight for power. A face-off becomes inevitable.
Such a face-off, which becomes a necessity rather than just merely an option, has a high probability of spillage over other Gulf states. The geopolitical environment is ripe for interstate conflict. Iran has an internal problem and a war against another state is an option which the political elite might choose to deflect rising deprivations. Syria is entirely engulfed in an internal war which is becoming intractable as two global superpowers try to influence its outcome based on their separate, conflicting and contrasting self-interests. While Iran and Syria manage their own conflicts, Iraq is slowly recovering from the ravages of a civil war. Yes, it is still weak, yet, it increases its capabilities while its neighbours become burdened by the costs of internal conflicts.
Interstate security cooperation is key towards stabilising the region. However, such a security cooperation is being threatened by the growing capability of Iran and the susceptibility of Syria. Saudi Arabia is a possible counterforce against Iran but its military capability is still suspect. The Al-Saud family is trying to assume leadership over other gulf states in a bid to grow its power; yet, several states suspect its capability knowing full well that compared with Iranians, the Saudi Arabians do not have combat experience. For decades, they relied on US power for security. With the US deciding to lessen its presence in the MENA, the power vacuum remains.
The US decision to withdraw from the region is due mainly to the tremendous costs of war. It drained the US not just on the financial side, but on the moral one. America has sacrificed thousands of its young men and women in a war that is fast turning out to be the Middle East version of Vietnam. Trump is correct on urging its allies to try and form tacit security regimes in order to defend themselves. America itself is facing numerous challenges arising from different fronts. When the US spread itself too thin, the effects on the economy made it far too weak to counter another serious war. It has to either withdraw or continue on policing the region at its own risks. Trump is a businessman and surely, it is not to his liking to take part in a highly risky business, the Middle East represents.
Rising tensions and the lack of a regional mechanism to use in articulating benign intentions seem to pull these states into war. International organisations like the United Nations (UN) had since played its role to the hilt, yet, it did not lead to a resolution of the conflict–however, it led to managing it.
As the complexion of the conflict slowly turns intractable, the best option is simply continue to exhaust diplomacy. Diplomacy had proven its mettle for decades.