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In the first post-ISIS battle between the North and South of the Middle East: The North has won

As a country which both geographically and geo-politically sits between the two blocs of the Middle East, Palestine was always going to present a challenge of leadership. The challenge has been answered most strongly in the North.

My previous writings in The Duran have advanced the theory that there is now a clear divide in the Middle East between Northern and Southern powers of the region. Crucially, this new divide is one which transcends over-hyped Sunni/Shi’a divides as well as Arab/non-Arab divides.

In summary, a new alliance stretching from Iran’s border with Pakistan to the coasts of Lebanon and Syria has formed, in which Turkey and Iraq are also members, in spite of Turkey and Syria not having formal diplomatic relations. This is the Northern bloc.

In the Southern bloc, one sees the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf except for Qatar (at the moment), Egypt, Jordan and Israel.

In terms of the relations of the three superpowers to these blocs, Russia and China, while having traditional partners in the North, also remain on highly good terms with the major players in the South, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt. By contrast, the US almost exclusively has friendships in the South. The US has chosen a side while Russia and China do not feel a need to do so.

Palestine both for geographical and geo-political reasons is caught in-between these blocs.

The new Middle East: A North/South divide where Israel is losing its narrative and its old game plan

Because of Palestine’s difficult position, in every sense of the word, it is unsurprising that a Palestinian matter is the issue that has provided the first post-ISIS test of how the blocs would respond to a new crisis.

Among the prominent figures of the Northern bloc, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is among the most important. As the leader of the Lebanese resistance party Hezbollah, Nasrallah is uniquely placed as an individual with incredibly warn relations with Iran, Syria and Iraq. By extrapolation, Hezbollah’s anti-terrorist campaigns in Syria and Iraq, mean that Hezbollah can take its share of credit for pushing the Syria conflict in particular, to the point where the Astana group of Russia, Iran and Turkey will now be ultimately responsible for guiding a peace process. In this sense Hezbollah has a one-step-removed relationship to the Astana process itself and one that should not be underestimated, not least because it means that Hezbollah have invested more in what has led to the Astana process, than any other party in Lebanon.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has just given a lengthy speech responding to Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem/Al-Quds as the Israeli capital.

Nasrallah warned that while many Arab leaders may soon go silent on the issue after initially responding with condemnation, that it is crucial for voices throughout the Arab world and the wider Muslim and Christian communities beyond, not to go silent.

Nasrallah stated that the power of social media and peaceful protest should not be cynically written off, but that indeed, if every Arab, Muslim and Christian throughout the world, used the power of technology to make their feelings known, that even the United States could not ignore this.

Nasrallah, in his speech, referred to the US as an ultimately pragmatic nation that puts its own interests first. If the wider Arab and Muslim world were to unite over Al-Quds, this would, he said, send a message to America that unilateral moves will ultimately harm Washington’s regional interests and even those of Washington’s allies.

Nasrallah then threw down the gauntlet to all regional powers, but in particular, to those in the Southern bloc. He stated that they must summon their US ambassadors and make their feelings known with high levels of detail. Obviously, this will be most impactful in countries of the Southern bloc with very good relations with Washington. Saudi Arabia, Qatar (which one can call Southern for this purpose), Egypt, Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain and Oman spring to mind as states that could, if united on this issue, make the US reconsider its position, something Nasrallah stated is entirely possible.

Nasrallah also stated that countries in the Southern bloc which are normalising relations with Israel must walk-back on this promise in order to leverage the US, in the way that the US has historically leveraged countries like Jordan, Egypt and more recently Saudi Arabia.

Most important of all, he concluded his speech by saying that it was possible to turn the “biggest threat” of a “new Balfour Declaration” into the “biggest opportunity”, by following a careful path of popular protest, social media protest and diplomatic pressure.

His words were that of a resistance leader, but also and more importantly, that of a tactful diplomat who has clearly articulated a formula from which the Arab world can use its strength to leverage the United States, just as it did in 1973 during the oil embargo–and all without firing a shot.

Even while extending a kind of olive branch to Hezbollah’s enemies in the Southern bloc with a call for unity over the Jerusalem/Al-Quds issue, Nasrallah was clearly speaking from a position of authority, one which the leaders of much of the Southern bloc have lost and indeed, lost some time ago.

In the Northern bloc, Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq have led the charge of condemnation against Donald Trump’s move. While all the states of the Southern bloc (minus Israel, of course) have condemned the move, they have done so from a position of having have normal relations with Israel (de facto like Egypt and Jordan or de jure like Saudi and her allies) and even more importantly, good relations with the United States.

If the generally wealthy Southern bloc cannot use its power to leverage the United States to step back from an anti-Arab position, what good is its power? In other words, “we did all this for the US and Israel and still got insulted”? It is an insult that has brought shame upon much of the Southern bloc in the eyes of the wider Muslim and Chrsitian world, even  beyond the Middle East, but in places like Pakistan which traditionally has very warn relations with Saudi Arabia as well as in Armenia and the Muslim majority regions of both the north and south Caucasus.

In spite of wars in Iraq and Syria, political worries in Lebanon (which are now mostly settled) and sanctions on Iran, the besieged Northern bloc has led the way on the Jerusalem/Al-Quds issue. Furthermore, Turkey’s newfound position in this Northern bloc has been solidified by President Erdgoan’s incredibly strong rhetoric on the issue. In this sense, Turkey is the only traditional US ally and Israeli partner to take a strong stance on the issue. The responses from Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia while rhetorically unambitious, have been nowhere near as powerful as Turkey’s unmistakably ‘Northern’ tone.

In this sense, while Saudi Arabia had hoped to unify the Middle East world using the prestige derived from wealth, ordinary Arabs as well as Muslims and Christians beyond the Arab world, are increasingly uniting behind statements coming out of prominent northern bloc countries of the region.

In the battle for influence, it would appear that the combination of policy consistency and multi-polarity have a far greater cachet than countries with wealth who seem unable to use any leverage against the US.

The Northern bloc has assumed a leadership role on an issue which both unites the North and South, while exposing who really has the geo-political power in the 21st century.

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