The final day of the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate on November 11th saw top decision makers and international policy experts discuss the main areas of tension in the Middle East from political and economic viewpoints. Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria and purchase of Russian missile defence systems, Iran’s influence and Israeli policy regarding Hamas and Hezbollah were the key topics.
Turkey’s attempt to gain control in northern Syria has been met with rising criticism, mainly from the United States, which imposed additional sanctions on Turkey following its ejection from the F-35 fighter production programme when Erdogan purchased the Russian S-400 Russian fighter defence system
There are fears the destabilisation of northern Syria could risk a resurgence of Isis, as thousands of former fighters and their relatives are being detained there. Hundreds of Isis family members are said to have already escaped from the camp where they were held.
Guest speaker, Dr Philip Gordon, Senior Fellow in US Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, said, “Former President Obama had a different vision towards Turkey because he was optimistic about working with the country but this has changed now. The once democratic order has now changed, there have been large numbers of arrests and violations of human rights practised by the Erdogan regime.”
In addition to Turkey’s attempted expansion of its influence in Syria, tension remains high over Iran’s collapsing nuclear deal with world powers, from which the US withdrew unilaterally over a year ago.
The September attacks on two Saudi Aramco oil facilities, which Riyadh and Washington believe were conducted by Iran, have only worsened the situation.
Iran is suffering economically as the ruling elite maintain their grip on the country’s natural resources. “There is an unclear distribution of wealth in Iran, rendering the regime incapable of truly pointing out sources of revenue. Iranian officials are trying tirelessly to renegotiate their nuclear project, hoping that Trump will lose the upcoming elections,” Professor Ali Massoud Ansari, Professor of Iranian History at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, said.
The US has played a major role in restricting Iran’s oil exports and causing, in part, a sharp economic downturn. This has seen Iranian currency plummet in value with inflation rocketing skywards.
Israel’s role in the Middle East was a third topic discussed on the final day of the Strategic Debate. Commenting on Israel’s relations with the US and its role in the Middle East, Dr. David Pollock, Bernstein fellow and Director of Project Fikra at the Washington Institute said that Washington is unlikely to see substantial changes in Israeli policy regarding the region and the world after the formation of the new government. Israel is unlikely to go to war with Hezbollah or Hamas. However, the two organisations remain a grave and imminent threat to Israel from the Israeli point of view, so it will not hesitate to respond if attacked.
Israel continues to target Iranian forces and their allies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. However, said Dr Pollock, this is unlikely to lead to a major escalation on Israel's northern border.