The Western public has been so poorly served, in recent years, by its supposed world-class media organisations that any semblance of a coherent narrative explaining world events and tying together their deeper, underlying, causes to one another, has almost completely disappeared from the programming of the major networks. More often than not, international affairs are presented to us as a series of apparently unrelated events that simply “occur”, in most cases without any meaningful context or background being provided, or else, with a completely one-sided and deliberately misleading interpretation being force-fed to us by our “impartial” broadcasters.
This is especially true of coverage of the Middle East, a region where major interests, both financial and political, are at stake, and where, consequently, the powers-that-be desire to impart only the most superficial of understandings of the general situation to their populations. After all, we may one day need to be persuaded to send our sons off to die in a war against some recalcitrant country in the region and it wouldn’t do for us to have too nuanced and balanced an understanding of events there when the propaganda offensive begins and the time comes to fall in line.
Yet a profound transformation is taking place in the region and one which could have profound consequences; not only for the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East but also for the wider balance of world power.
The nation that has, so far, experienced the most extreme change is, without doubt, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Long regarded – by her admirers and detractors alike – as the exemplar of ‘hard-line’ Sunni traditionalism, the Kingdom is undergoing a startling transformation, one which, just a few years ago, would have been utterly unthinkable.
Western pop concerts are not only now permitted in the Kingdom but are actively sponsored by the government; women’s rights are, at least superficially, being brought somewhat in line with 21st century norms and a general “relaxation” of society is occurring under the guise of the government’s “Agenda 2030” and the supposed need for economic investment and tourism.
Whilst many more astute observers will point out that the ruling class in the country has always engaged in sinful “Western” behaviours – and much worse besides – and whilst it is certainly true that many of the changes in a country that was previously so brutal and oppressive might actually be a positive development for the people of that country – it must be understood that they are not occurring in a vacuum. The very speed and energy with which the government is imposing them upon the population indicates a wider agenda might well be at play here. (After all, the Saudi Government, which regularly dismembers petty criminals in public and which, just last year, was caught doing the same to a ‘hostile’ journalist held captive in one of its embassies in Turkey, can hardly be suspected of acting purely on humanitarian grounds!)
Alongside the, often crude, ”liberalisation” of the country a geopolitical revolution is taking place in the country’s foreign relations. A fundamental transformation is currently occurring in the Kingdom’s attitude to the traditional Arab enemy – Israel – although you would be hard pressed to hear much about it from the mainstream Western Media.
Saudi leaders now not only recognise Israel as a legitimate entity in the region but top Saudi journalists pray for her during Ramadanhttps://www.trtworld.com/magazine/saudi-journalists-...-26604, whilst a recent article in the Israeli paper Haaretz (a fairly good source for such developments in the Kingdom) demonstrates how Saudi’s “army” of paid government trolls has been waging a relentless campaign to delegitimise the Palestinian cause, once considered unassailable across the Arab world, in favour of Israeli interests.https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/premium-saudi-ar...572903
With increasing vehemence, Saudi officials and media personalities seek to turn popular anger away from Israel and onto Iran, arguing that she is the real threat to regional security and prosperity in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, in spite of her official condemnations of the Zionist State, has never posed any military threat to Israel – unlike Ghadaffi’s Libya and Saddam’s Iraq, both of which were conveniently “neutralised” by her Western allies. It is, in fact, highly probable that the two nations have had some kind of behind the scenes “understanding” for many decades now. Much as with the government-enforced liberalisation, the issue is not so much that such a rapprochement should be occurring – the real problem is that it is happening so brazenly and without serious pushback on the part of the wider Sunni world. We must consider what this might mean for the government’s future actions in the region if the Arab population simply allows them to so radically shift the geopolitical narrative without any signs of serious resistance.
It must also be remembered that Mohammed Bin Salman, the son of the ruling monarch but widely regarded as the de facto leader of the country, rose to his current position power by means of a sudden coup in 2017 – the precise details of which still remain shrouded in mystery to this day. This led to many of the most wealthy and powerful figures in the country being arrested and, according to some reports, even tortured on his orders. As we will see, in the case of many other countries in the region discussed here, this situation is not unique to Saudi Arabia. It seems obvious that any leader who has survived a coup against him by his own country’s military and intelligence services – or has successfully launched one himself – is highly likely to have done so with the assistance of one or more foreign intelligence services. Afterwards, it is likely that he will find himself, to a greater or lesser extent, beholden to them. In the case of Mohammed Bin Salman, as with others who have taken the same path to power in recent years, this is especially probable given the power and wealth of many of the people he was forced to humiliate and dispossess in the process and his subsequent need for protection and support.
The fact remains that Israeli-Saudi relations have never been better, in the history of either country. So close have relations between them become, that the Kingdom is widely rumoured to have invited Israeli investors and tech giants to invest in its futuristic, multi-billion dollar project, Neom.http://nocamels.com/2017/11/smart-city-eilat-israel...rabia/ This is the plan to create a 21st century “city-state” on the North-Western border of Saudi Arabia – one which is intended to become semi-autonomous from the central government, having its own separate laws and customs. It is easy to see how this could benefit Israel – an emerging technological and cyber global power – as Neom is intended to be the first “A.I.” city in the world, running on sustainable energy and filled with robotic workers linked together by the ‘Internet of Things”.https://archpaper.com/2017/10/saudi-arabia-neom-500-...-city/ Whether it ultimately turns out to be the basis for a new Middle-Eastern power-hub or a mere desert mirage to fool unwise investors remains to be seen.
One of the other main partners in this ambitious venture is Egypt onto whose territory, like that of Jordan, the new city-state of Neom is set to encroach.https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-01-16/s...y-neom Whilst Egypt has more of a tradition of Western-style liberalism – with a more secular, nationalist military vying against a populist Islamist movement in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood – it has also undergone a kind of “forced liberalisation” in recent years via the official media and state institutions. As in the case of Saudi Arabia, this also occurred after a risky coup in which powerful and connected figures were displaced and following which Egyptian-Israeli relations rapidly improved.
The coup in that country occurred during the July of 2013 when General Sisi, who underwent military training in the U.S and the U.K, overthrew the populist Muslim Brotherhood government and imprisoned its leader Mohammed Morsi (who has since died standing trial).
Whilst the Muslim Brotherhood may be regarded as distasteful by many in the West, especially as a result of incidents of undeniable persecution of the Christian minority at its hands, it is nonetheless true that it was extremely popular amongst Egypt’s majority Sunni population. They were particularly favoured by the lower classes and the rural population who voted them into power. It is also notable that Mohammed Morsi himself was engaged in questioning the legitimacy of Israel and supporting the Palestinian cause during his, brief, tenure in power.
Let us finally turn to Turkey – a contrary example that might help to shed light on wider regional trends and help us to discern the geopolitical interests that might lie behind the many significant changes that have occurred there in recent years. Once again a coup – this time a failed one against the ruling president Reccep Tayip Erdogan in July of 2016 – seemed to set the country on a radically different path, geopolitically, than the one it had been following up until that point.
In this case however, the result did not seem to be a sudden thawing in Turkish-Israeli relations or a rapid, forced “Westernisation” of the country but rather a sudden move away from America towards Russia. This change of allegiance was all the more unexpected given the fact that relations between the two countries had been steadily worsening for years. This was largely due to Turkey’s having effectively acted as the West’s proxy against Russia in Syria. Relations reached a nadir after Turkey shot down a Russian jet, which had strayed briefly into her territory, and a Turkish-backed militia killed one of the pilots after he ejected himself from the burning aircraft. Her subsequent embrace of Russia is particularly grave, from the point of view of the West, as it threatens to seriously undermine the NATO alliance in which Turkey – as its main outpost in the region – was a key player.
Since the failed coup there appears to be no sign of the sudden friendliness between the two nations abating: with Turkey purchasing military hardware from the Russians and cooperating with them across the region. Turkey also continues to loudly oppose what it sees as Israeli crimes in Palestine, in contrast to the recent silence of other Middle Eastern powers. As in the case of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, we can only work with the information that is currently available to us and make our own conjectures accordingly. Does it not seem probable, in all three cases, that the sudden eruption of the coups and the subsequent, drastic shift in certain key geopolitical alignments might be directly related?
Anybody who has been following mainstream Western media cannot have failed to notice a steady increase in the drive towards war with Iran – especially if they live in America, from which the majority of recruits for such a conflict are likely to be drawn. The usual precursors of such a major conflict are starting to appear with alarming regularity on the nightly news bulletins: international sanctions, breakdown in diplomacy, “incidents” on the coastline surrounding one of the opposing nations, tit for tat actions by the major countries involved etc. etc.
This drive is being led by three nations in particular: namely Israel, Saudi Arabia and America. All three are seeking to portray Iran as the major threat to regional stability. They are also attempting to paint her as the major sponsor of anti-Western terrorism. This is particularly laughable, given the fact that not one of the major attacks – that have killed hundreds across the West in recent decades – can be traced back to her, which cannot be said for Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. or Qatar. The truth is that Iran is a major threat to the regional hegemony of these powers. After Russia, it is principally Iran and her allies in Hezbollah and the Houthi movement who have prevented the Americans, Israelis and Saudis from imposing their will upon the region and removing regimes considered hostile to their interests. At the same time, Iran is weaker than Russia and is probably regarded as a suitable first target for elimination, after which, deprived of her main regional ally, Russia might perhaps prove more ‘amenable’ to Western overtures.
Here in the West, the population, held captive by a deceptive media and a corrupt and cynical political class, can only watch these developments with the hope that they do not escalate further. However, if we at least attempt to apply logic and historical precedent to the situation, we may be able to discern the hidden hands that are stirring tension across the region. Then, perhaps, we can at least avoid being dragged into yet another foreign war in defence of somebody else’s national interests.
Charlie O’Neill is a freelance writer specialising in History and Geopolitics.