April 20th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Budget 2019: The dark side of 'back in the black': no vision

EUTHANASIA FYI: How to navigate the voluntary assisted 'dying' process

CANBERRA OBSERVED Take your tax cuts and be merry, for tomorrow ... is another day

FOREIGN AFFAIRS New Middle East alliance will challenge Saudis

LIFE ISSUES ALP abortion policy blithely tramples all our consciences

SOCIETY AND TECHNOLOGY Will Artificial Intelligence do the walking for you?

LIFE ISSUES Trump, Shorten and Morrison on abortion

GENDER POLITICS Women abused at Women's Day March

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Bill Shorten's bizarre electric car policy

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Revitalising marriage and family: an especially lay apostolate

ASIAN AFFAIRS Entire nations going out without a baby's whimper


MUSIC 1+1=Sublimity: Explanations are like the back side of a tapestry

CINEMA Shazam!: Ambitious teen finds out what's in a name

BOOK REVIEW What will be left us after the deluge?

BOOK REVIEW Author puts some great minds to work



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New Middle East alliance will challenge Saudis

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, April 20, 2019

A leading American strategic analyst has drawn attention to a new political alliance of Turkey, Iran and Qatar, which is challenging the dominance of the Saudi regime in the Middle East.

The analyst is Yossef Bodansky, the Israeli-born director of research at the International Strategic Studies Associ­ation, and former director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare of the U.S. House of Representatives.

He is an expert in Middle Eastern politics and Islamist terrorism.

In a recent article, he wrote: “A new bloc is emerging in the greater Middle East with the declared objectives of dominating the entire Arab world, confronting and containing the U.S. and its allies; and controlling and benefitting from the entire hydrocarbon economy, from production to transportation.

“The leading members of the new bloc are Turkey, Iran, and Qatar; with Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan submitting to the new bloc.”

Religious divide

The significance of the new bloc is that it bridges the divide between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam, which have been at war with one another for over 1000 years.

The origins of the new bloc go back some years. Qatar, one of the Persian Gulf states, has substantial reserves of natural gas, and is co-owner, with Iran, of the world’s largest natural gas field.

Qatar, which hosts the largest U.S. base in the Middle East, has used its gas exports to build its own national airline, to build the influential Al Jazeera media network, and to pursue a policy independent of Saudi Arabia, its largest neighbour.

Al Jazeera has strongly supported the Arab Spring, which Saudi Arabia and Egypt strongly opposed, and Qatar and the Saudis backed rival rebel factions in the Syrian civil war.

A further issue was Saudi Arabia’s veto on new development of the North Dome gas field that Qatar wants to develop further. About 80 per cent of the field lies in Qatar’s territorial waters, and the balance in Iran’s. Saudi Arabia effectively runs the largest regional alliance, the Gulf Co-operation Council.

The differences between Qatar and Saudi Arabia came to the fore in 2017, when Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Co-oper­ation Council imposed an air and food embargo on Qatar, in an effort to bring it to heel.

Qatar openly defied the embargo. To survive, Qatar needed allies, and readily found them in Iran, which is developing its gas field in the Persian Gulf, and Turkey.

Foreign oil companies are heavily involved in the development of the gas field, particularly on the Iranian side. Their operations are compromised by President Trump’s embargo on trade with Iran.

Iran and Turkey, which lie on opposite sides of the Sunni-Shia divide in the Isla­mic world, have a common interest in reducing the influence of Saudi Arabia, and in preventing the establishment of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq.

The Kurds, with strong American backing, have a de-facto state in northern Iraq, based on the city of Mosul. The Kurds are ethnically different from the Arab people of Iraq, and have a distinct culture going back thousands of years.

If a Kurdish nation were to emerge from the chaos in Iraq and Syria, it would threaten the integrity of Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria, because all four countries have significant Kurdish minorities, and would exacerbate separatist tensions in all four countries.

Because of the Kurds’ strong alliance with the United States, the U.S. would be happy to see the emergence of a Kurdish state in the Middle East, although it is not a high priority for Washington.

In this complex situation, Qatar has sided with Iran and Turkey to form the new alliance. Moreover, the alliance has secured recognition from both China and Russia, both of whom want to diminish American influence in the Middle East.

However, Qatar and Saudi Arabia both retain close ties with the United States in the Middle East.

The Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad supports the new Middle East alliance, both as a means of ensuring the territorial integrity of Syria, as the Syrian civil war comes to an end, and as a beneficiary of a planned oil and gas pipeline from the Persian Gulf, through Iran and Iraq, and up to Syria, where it is planned to enter the Mediterranean Sea at the Syrian port of Latakia.

Russia, which has gained a strong foothold in the region through its support for President Assad, is looking to consolidate its presence through the new Middle East alliance.

The big loser from the new alliance is Saudi Arabia, which looks certain to lose its status as the main power broker in the Middle East, as well as its influence with the United States as the world’s largest oil exporter.

What significance this development has for the geopolitical and economic world order is not yet clear. It may be a regional realignment only, and will not necessarily change the global geopolitical balance, particularly because Qatar is a close ally of the U.S., and Russia is already a player in the region (via its role in Syria).

U.S. expansion of shale oil production means the U.S. is now independent of Middle East oil.

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm