This week has been one of change, uncertainty and violence in the Middle East. While the specific linkage between each of the following events must be analysed on an individual basis of proximate causation, there is a wider pattern which has emerged.
1. Qatar Isolated
On the 5th of June, Saudi Arabia led a charge of Arab and Muslim nations cutting off all diplomatic, commercial and transport links with Qatar. Qatar now stands isolated from its neighbours including and especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Now, Saudi Arabia has threatened war on its small neighbour, something which still seems unlikely due to the heavy American military presence in Qatar and Saudi, but the threatening nature of Saudi’s most recent statement should not be taken lightly.
Qatar and Saudi are both well known sponsors of Salafist terrorism, including of groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda but in this diplomatic spat Saudi may be going rogue. Alternatively, Saudi may be acting in private concert with the United States which has its largest base in the Middle East inside Qatar.
It is looking increasing likely that Qatar may be the subject of some sort of regime change, in spite of being a long time US ally.
While many point to the falling price of oil as the real reason that tensions between Saudi and Qatar have been renewed, Saudi cites Qatar extending channels of communications with the Islamic Republic of Iran as well as the more amorphous and hypocritical (though true) charge of ‘sponsoring terrorism’ as the primary justification for the new cold war in the Gulf which may became a hot war if Saudi threats are to be believed.
While America has remained formally neutral, Donald Trump has Tweeted his support to Saudi while condemning Qatar.
2. US and Kurds advance on Raqqa
Just weeks after Kurdish dominated SDF forces in Syria allowed a number of ISIS fighters and commanders to escape the besieged city and escape towards Deir ez-Zor, America began hitting Raqqa with missile strikes from the George H.W. Bush carrier group in the eastern Mediterranean. Simultanious to this, Kurdish forces are now rapidly advancing towards the centre of Raqqa.
If America and the Kurds take the self-procalimed ISIS capital, it could be not only a deeply symbolic victory but it could help tilt the balance of a peace settlement in favour of Kurdish and American geo-political designs on Syria.
This is all happening as the Syrian Arab Army makes considerable advances on remaining terrorist strongholds in Homs, Hama, Aleppo and most importantly Deir ez-Zor.
3. US Airstrike on Syrian Forces in Southern Syria
On the 6th of June, the same day that America started launching missile attacks at alleged ISIS targets in Raqqa, American fighter jets struck a large convoy of the Syrian Arab Army and its allies near the Jordanian and Iraqi borders in southern Syria.
While the United States said that it did not want to target the convoy, the convoy of Syrians (in its own country) refused to stop. Russia tried to get both sides to stand down but neither listened.
This event should be understood not as a part of America’s strategic master plan for Syria which is more focused on Syria’s northern and eastern regions, but instead should be viewed as a further malicious attempt for America to assert authority in Syria, where it currently operations in contravention to international law.
4. Terror In Iran
On the morning of June the 7th, the Iranian Parliament and the Mausoleum of Imam Khomeini were attacked by multiple terrorists carrying automatic weapons and suicide bombs.
The attack was a clear attempt to strike at the heart of Iranian government and a memorial to the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran whose death on 3 June 1989, Iran has been recently commemorating.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack but this claim must be examined thoroughly. It remains unlikley though not impossible, that crazed ISIS fighters could so easily sneak into Iran which is a very secure and stable state.
This is why groups which have been able to pull off attacks in Iran, the Albanian based terrorist group Mojahedin-e Khalq along with Israel’s secret intelligence service are key suspects.
By contrast, ISIS have never yet been able to strike inside Iran,
What does it all mean?
America has been desperate to build an alliance of mainly Sunni Arab nations against Iran, at the same time, Saudi Arabia has considered the possibility of having to rely on Pakistani mercenaries in the event of a war with Iran that many in Saudi seem foolish enough to want to start.
Qatar has thrown this plan off while Pakistan’s refusal to go along with the Saudi scheme against Qatar has made Saudi Arabia worry.
The inability of Sunni Arab states and the wider Sunni Muslim world to unite against Iran may have some in the west worried.
There is every possibility that the attack on Iran was coordinated by western and or Israeli actors frustrated at the lack of Arab unity against Iran and took matters into their own hands using a terrorist proxy. This of course is speculation, but it follows on from an existing and deeply worrying pattern.