THE LEVANT EXCLUSIVE – By Jose Luis Chalhoub Naffah – Not that many years ago, a retired US Air Force officer decided to push for a new geo-political map of the Middle East, in alignment and keeping with Washington’s interests and agenda rather than ground realities. This “Initiative for a Greater Middle East” aimed to enlarge and increase America’s presence and traction in the region.
In late April 2004, the United States presented to the G-8 “sherpas” a new set of proposals for a Greater Middle East Initiative (GMEI) to be adopted by the eight industrialized nations at their June summit in Sea Island, Georgia. The initiative was part of President Bush’s “forward strategy of freedom,” by which the expansion of political rights and political participation in the Muslim world is meant to combat the appeal of Islamist extremism.
Two vital aspects of Bush’s remapping provisioned for the division of Iraq into three states (Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite) and the fragmentation of Saudi Arabia.
The idea that Saudi Arabia could be broken up into several zones of influence was very much born from a deep mistrust on the part of the US following 9/11.
Looking back, events in Yemen could very well lead to a new geo-political configuration depending on how Saudi Arabia and its main regional nemesis sort out their differences.
With the alliance Washington-Riyadh on shaky ground, a new reality in the region is slowly taking shape
In recent months there have been skirmishes and incursions by the Houthis – Shiite rebel group – against Al Saud as well as calls in eastern Qatif – a province with a strong Shiite majority – to rebel against the monarchy. With a potential insurrection both on the east and the south, Saudi Arabia is standing on quick sand. To add insult to injury, both Saudi Arabia southern and eastern regions are home to vast reserves of oil and gas.
Acutely aware of Saudi Arabia’s oil dependence and the increased social pressures which the kingdom has been under as a result of its anti-Shiite policies, Iran has been rumoured to have fanned dissent as a destabilizing factor.
Now while it is painfully obvious that Iran wants to replace Saudi Arabia as the regional super-power, the real question is – what will the United States do and how will it positions itself within this political reality.
Will Washington operate a U-turn and review its position vis-à-vis Tehran at a time when Saudi Arabia’s ties with terror have become too great of a liability to ignore, or will the US stands by its KSA partner regardless of the ever-growing gap which has emerged in between the old allies.
Yemen could prove a determining factor in this tug of war and shifting alliances.