Multiple Middle Eastern disputes are threatening to spill out of control. This is largely due to the changed role of the United States.
Perceptions of U.S. unreliability were initially sparked by former U.S. president Barack Obama’s Middle East policies. This included his declared pivot to Asia، support of the 2011 Arab popular revolts، criticism of Israel as well as willingness to engage with Iran.
Trump’s partisan approach
Donald Trump has proven to be more partisan than Mr. Obama in his backing of the UAE، Saudi Arabia and Israel and his confrontational approach of Iran.
Although Trump appears to have granted Middle Eastern partners near carte-blanche، his mercurial unpredictability has made him no less unreliable even in the perception of the foremost U.S. allies in the region.
Mr. Trump’s partisan approach as well as his refusal to reign in U.S. allies has led to potential escalation of multiple conflicts. This includes the war in Yemen، mounting tension in Gaza between Israel and Hamas، a race for control of ports and military facilities in the Horn of Africa، Israeli challenging of Iran’s presence in Syria as well as confrontation with Iran.
At the same time، the fact that nations in the region need to fend more for themselves has had some real consequences. For example، the UAE، driven by a quest to control ports in the Horn of Africa and create a string of military bases، together with Saudi Arabia، played a key role in reconciling Ethiopia and Eritrea after more than two decades of cold war.
Looming threat of conflict
More often however، U.S. allies appear to be increasingly locked into pathways that threaten mounting violence، if not outright military confrontation.
The recent escalation of the Yemen war that threatens the free flow of oil with Saudi Arabia halting oil shipments through the Bab el Mandeb strait and an unverified claim by Houthi rebels to have targeted Abu Dhabi’s international airport constitutes the latest fallout of U.S. failure.
Analysts see the halt in oil shipments as an effort to get major military powers، including the United States، Europe and Muslim allies like Pakistan and Egypt who have shied away from sending troops to Yemen، to intervene to defeat the Houthis.
Many of those powers depend on oil shipments through Bab el Mandeb. The bid to suck them into the Yemen war is an effort to secure a victory that neither Saudi Arabia or the UAE have been able to achieve in more than three years of fighting that has devastated Yemen.
Little wonder that external powers responded cautiously to the Saudi halt of oil shipments. U.S. and EU spokespeople said they were aware of the Saudi move.
U.S. support for Israel
Elsewhere in the region، U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as well as unqualified support for Israel’s hard-handed efforts aided by Egypt and the Palestine Authority to squeeze Hamas and suppress sustained protests along the Gaza-Israel border have emboldened Israeli hardliners.
It has prompted Palestinians to refuse U.S. mediation and، together with Hamas moves to capitalize on the mounting tension، threaten to spark renewed military confrontation that neither side wants.
The United States and Iran are locked into an escalating war of words. This threatens further interruptions of the flow of oil as well as doom and gloom against a backdrop of the imposition of harsh U.S. sanctions.
The United States and Saudi Arabia، in an effort to topple the regime in Tehran، even toy with attempting to spur ethnic unrest in Iran.
None of these moves will help stabilize a region that desperately needs it.