By Sal Bommarito
The bad news emanating from the Middle East and neighboring countries has been non-stop for quite some time. At first glance, the events seem unrelated and pose little risk to those of us who live thousands of miles away. Recently, there have been new developments, which demand closer scrutiny because they could destabilize the Middle East further along with many nations throughout the world.
Essays published by this blog have analyzed every conceivable issue relating to the ISIS conflict. For those of you, who need background, please click here to access Softball Politics. You may read earlier articles of interest to you.
It’s time to once again reconsider the implications of the ISIS conflict from a global perspective. Initially, a group of unorganized bandits ravaged large tracts of land in Iraq and Syria. The leaders indicated their objective is to establish an Islamic caliphate. In fact, the group immediately began to murder innocent people who were not Arab, were Shiites or did not ascribe to the most fundamental precepts of Islam.
During their reign of terror, the renegades absconded more and more land along with oil reserves and antiquities, which they sold to finance their fighting force. ISIS uses social media to broadcast their propaganda and to recruit new fighters. Yet, most world leaders did not consider ISIS a great threat, including President Obama. Soon, the president changed his perspective and initiated a bombing program intended to stem the tide of ISIS.
ISIS has held its own while fighting against an inferior Iraq army, “moderate” rebels in Syria and Kurds near the border of Syria and Turkey. The latter group has had the most success to this point. American bombing sorties have been relatively unproductive, as many planes return to base with all their munitions because the pilots have not been able to find suitable targets, or they could not obtain permission to drop their loads.
ISIS has been fortifying its position in populated areas. This will hamper the current bombing tactics, as the U.S. is concerned with collateral damage. The need for qualified ground forces has never been direr. Most experts believe that the Iraqi army will never be able to effectively deal with the ISIS force embedded in cities and towns, even after the U.S. trains them.
More importantly is the fact that the ideology of ISIS is becoming more popular every day. The rebels have been boasting about their ability to withstand American assaults, made possible because assaults are exclusively from the sky. Recruits have been streaming in, as disenfranchised young people want to become affiliated with a winning group that defies the international establishment.
An outgrowth of this phenomenon is the continuing lone wolf threats popping up around the world, such as the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and more recently bomb threats to commercial airlines. A global destructive revolutionary spirit is growing rapidly, which is so diverse and widespread that it will be difficult to fend off.
After following events in the Middle East for an extended period of time, many have concluded that the hostilities between the two major sects of Islam (personified by Iran and Saudi Arabia) are the most perverse cause of conflict in the region. This is not a new development, however, three issues have caused the relationship between Shiites and Sunnis to deteriorate even further.
The first relates to ISIS and Syria. Even though Iran and Saudi Arabia are fighting ISIS, Iran continues to support the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, while the Saudis are dead set against it. This is a part of a growing and continuous indirect confrontation between the two most important countries in the Middle East that represent opposing Islamic perspectives. Further, fighters backed by Iran have just toppled Yemen and the Saudi-backed (and U.S. backed) government has been deposed. Iran and Saudi Arabia are forever supporting provocateurs in countries that are Sunni and Shiite, respectively.
Another development is the decline in oil prices. Saudi Arabia in effect controls the lion’s share of oil exported out of the Middle East. Its policy is to maintain current levels of production even if they foster lower oil prices. This has a serious impact on all of the oil producing countries around the world, especially Iran.
Some are speculating that the Saudi strategy is to severely damage Iran economically by keeping prices low. This will ultimately affect the ability of Iran to buy the loyalty of other Arab nations and conduct covert operations in Sunni controlled states. The Saudis are in a much better financial condition and can easily weather lower oil revenues.
Exacerbating the oil issue is Iran’s obsession with producing a nuclear weapon. This ambition causes great consternation in Saudi Arabia. It is likely that Iran will bully other Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, when and if it can deliver a nuclear device.
On the other side of the coin, the Saudi’s are certainly pressuring the U.S. to maintain sanctions against Iran and to not allow the Iranians any flexibility in their nuclear program. The sanctions will weaken Iran.
The dynamics of the Middle East are becoming more complicated every day. There are many similar, but less strategic issues facing other Arab nations, most notably are Egypt, and its new secular government, and Turkey, which has been tepid in its response to ISIS. Other problems have been caused by U.S. policies.