By Sal Bommarito
On rare occasions, I agree with Tom Friedman, columnist at the New York Times. He wrote a very insightful article about the conflicting forces in the Middle East and how they might impede the effort to defeat ISIS.
An unbiased observer could reasonably conclude that ISIS should be the principal concern for all the key players in the Middle East. After all, ISIS has threatened to kill all non-Arabs and non-Sunni Arabs in Iraq and Syria in an effort to create a Sunni caliphate. Moreover, ISIS fighters are approaching the borders that abut Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Jordan foretelling future violence.
Since the current ISIS brouhaha began a few months ago, many have wondered why Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have not been more concerned with the rampaging radicals, and why they are not more engaged in the fight. Friedman has unveiled the answer: these Arab nations have other issues that are equal to or greater in importance than ISIS.
The Middle East has been on the front pages of the newspapers for years. In recent times, oil supply, two Iraq wars, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and now the ISIS encounter have directed attention towards the region. Intermittently, different antagonists have incurred the wrath of Arabs. For years, the Israeli state has been a thorn in the sides of Arabs. The U.S.’s all too frequent incursions into the area, along with its support of Israel have confounded Arab leaders. But Friedman believes the most important underlying issue has been something else.
All the sturm and drang is a masquerade that diverts everyone from the real truth: the centuries old feud between Sunnis and Shiite. It is useful to consider Friedman’s take on this notion.
Iran has made it abundantly clear it wants to develop a nuclear weapon. Understandably, the rest of the civilized world is against this ambition. Why is it so important to Iran? The answer is that Iran intends to use this newfound club to bully Arabs into a Shiite caliphate, or a state led by a supreme religious leader.
Iran is the unchallenged leader of the Shiite world. According to Friedman, “[Iran] has taken control of four Arab capitals: Beirut, through the Shiite militia Hezbollah; Damascus, through the Shiite/Alawite regime of Bashar al-Assad; Baghdad, through the Shiite-led government; and . . . Sana, where a pro-Iranian-Yemen-Shiite offshoot . . . recently swept into the capital of Yemen [to dominate Sunnis].”
Up north, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erodogan, has abandoned the dream of democracy for the region. He now hopes to establish a Sunni caliphate that will dominate the Middle East under his leadership. Turkey has other issues that it believes are equally as important as the ISIS threat. They include the Kurdish aspiration of independence and the continued existence of the Assad regime in Syria. Turkey intends to pursue ISIS along with the aforementioned concerns on an equally aggressive basis, unless or until ISIS steps over its border.
And finally Saudi Arabia will play a large role in the Middle East drama. Its leaders also long for a caliphate that is Sunni, but Saudi-led. Just like the Iranians, Saudis have unleashed insurgents into Shiite strongholds to provoke violence and instability. No Saudi decision will be made regarding ISIS without first considering religious ramifications.
How ISIS will be defeated is unknown at this time. Many believe ISIS cannot be repelled without efficient ground support. Unfortunately, no nation is able and prepared to provide foot soldiers. Nevertheless, if ISIS is neutralized, the conflict in the region will continue in the form of new confrontations between Sunnis and Shiites.