Issues explore the potential outcomes of these developments

Issues
Motivated for Choosing the Study

While Arab countries are going through massive
political change, the role of the United States in the Middle East region is
changing. The political ties between the US and the newly emerging democracies
are likely to be weaker than has been the case under dictatorship. At the same
time, tensions between the US and Iran are rising and getting close to a
boiling point.

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 To explore
the potential outcomes of these developments and to come up with possibilities
for reducing the tensions in the region more effectively, one needs to examine
how the interests and strategies of the actors involved have shaped their
multi-lateral interactions.

 Thus, the
questions are: What are the objectives of the United States in the Middle East?

How do those objectives interact with the interests
of different countries in the region; in particular, those of America’s biggest
adversary, Iran, and the closest US ally, Israel?

What are the options of these stakeholders in
avoiding tension and unnecessary conflict?

 How are the
recent political developments in Arab countries influencing these relations and
the possible outcomes?

There is a vast literature that examines the above
questions from various angles across the field of international relations.

This project is an attempt to address these
questions jointly in an interdisciplinary context, taking into account the
economic as well as political dimensions of the US relationships with Middle
Eastern countries in the global context. The project particularly highlights
the role of Iran, Israel, and the GCC in these relationships.

Origin
and Nature

Interests
and Strategies of the Key Players

US
Interests and Strategies

 US businesses
and consumers have a keen interest in ensuring a reliable and efficient flow of
oil. While they mostly prefer lower oil prices, they understand that little can
be done to control the price when it is market driven. However, they are
concerned about supply disruptions and potential holdups by major producers. To
deal with this concern, US policymakers find it necessary to maintain military
and political presence in the Persian Gulf area to ensure that trade routes
remain open and the oil-rich countries there have “friendly” governments. They
are also keen to keep out potential rivals (e.g., Russians, who have
historically tried to extend their influence in the region).

 

 

Israel’s
Interests and Strategies

 Turning to
Israel’s objectives and characteristics, there are a number of issues that need
to be listed. To begin with, Israel has been important for Jews generally
around the world as a focal point and symbol of identity. So, they sympathize
with its cause and want to see it survive and prosper. However, realizing this
goal has been a challenge. Formation of Israel was associated with a great deal
of violence and dispossession of a large part of Palestinian population.
Consequently, despite the fact that peoples of different ethnicities and
religions had lived together in that area relatively peacefully for centuries,
Arabs came to see Jewish settlers as their enemies.

Iran’s
Interests and Strategies

 Iran’s utmost
interest in its external relations emerges from its need to ensure the security
of its territory and its natural resources (and their marketing options),
especially oil, gas, and marine resources. Some of these resources are shared
across Iran’s borders with its neighbors and have been subject of dispute in the
past. Iran also suffers from a long history of superpower intervention and
manipulation, aimed at gaining leverage over and its policies and resources. At
times foreign forces have invaded parts of Iran or have supported external or
internal proxies to destabilize the country.

Interests
and Strategies of Other Major Players: The EU

The EU’s interests and strategies in Middle Eastern
region are similar to those of the US. However, the EU’s interests are much
more focused on economic issues, with the non-oil components also having
somewhat more weight. The EU has a particular interest in helping the Middle
East develop economically and politically so that the immigration pressure from
the region would diminish. In terms of strategic difference, the EU countries
focus more on the North Africa region, while the US is more focused on military
presence in the Persian Gulf, where it is the dominant foreign power

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literature
Review

Since decades, a few factors have largely
contributed in attracting western countries to the Middle East, they are:

1)Affordable and secured energy resources: ( (Alam, 1969-1977): It has been
a reason for concern for the western countries to have a flowing supply of
affordable and secured energy resources from the Middle Eastern countries.

2)Key waterways for trade should
not be blocked. The Suez Canal and the Persian Gulf connect the Middle East
with Europe and other western countries through water ways.

3) Oil Supply: The Middle East is
one of the largest exporters of oil in the world. The oil-rich countries in the Middle East are Iran, Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE),
Oman, and Yemen

The United States has
long been involved with the Middle East. The 1991 Gulf War marked the first
time since 1958 that
the U.S. launched a full-scale invasion of the Middle East in order to protect
its interests. Up to the day that Iraq invaded Kuwait, Saddam Hussein was under
the impression that his actions would be acceptable to Washington.  (Davis, 2008)

United States foreign policy in the Middle East has its roots as early as the Barbary
Wars in the first years of the U.S.’s existence, but became much more expansive
after World War II. American policy during the Cold War tried to prevent Soviet Union influence by supporting anti-communist
regimes and backing Israel against Soviet-sponsored Arab countries.

(Mearsheimer, 2006)

Recent priorities
of the U.S. government in the Middle East have included resolving the Arab–Israeli
conflict and limiting
the spread of weapons
of mass destruction among regional states.

The Western countries
apart from their material vested interests in the Middle East, also came out to
support the Middle East in the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring was a series of
protests fought by people in many Middle Eastern and North African (Islamic
countries). People from all over the world came out to support these people
through social media and governments of other countries also supported the
people and helped in ending the riots.

Another major
concern for western countries is safeguarding themselves and their people from
the nuclear technology and nuclear weapons owned by the Middle East. For this
reason, the United States stepped into the Israeli conflict and the Syrian
conflict and have signed an agreement of non violence in the United Nations.  (Terhalle, 2011)

The sweeping political change in parts of the Middle
East the Arab Awakening, should change some of the equations in ways that may
help move the equilibrium in less destructive directions.

As early as 1912, the
Indian philosopher Abul Kalam Azad (1888) wrote: “Islam regards every form
of government which is non-constitutional and non-parliamentary as the greatest
human sin.” Turkey’s Mustafa Fazil Pasha (1829) held that Islam determined
one’s destiny in afterlife but it “does not limit the rights of the
people”. Abdullah Abdurrahman of South Africa (b1870) observed that,
without full equality, “there is no such thing as a democratic
institution”. Contrary to Muslims’ self-perception, the debate on Islam’s
alleged incompatibility with democracy continued in the post-war.  (Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel,
Iran, and the United States, 2007)

Iran might leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty (NPT). This brings with it fear of nuclear war and also economic tension
in Iran and the world. This will result in internal war and will add to the
costs of oil exports.

So, the western
countries will continue to be highly interested and engaged with the Middle
East countries.

 

 

Current
Situation

The current interactions among the strategies of the
players in the Middle East have produced a fragile equilibrium that does not
seem to be sustainable.

 Iran faces
serious internal and external constraints in reaching accommodation with the
United States. To fend off pressures and threats from the West, especially from
the US, the Islamic Republic has been building its military deterrent
capabilities.

 It has also
been developing its nuclear technology, which can give it industrial as well as
potential military advantages. In addition, Iran has tried to find allies
around the world as well as the region’s population. The former part of its
strategy has brought it to rely on China and Russia, while the latter part has
led it to be vocal against the US and Israel.

The leaders of the Islamic Republic do not see much
chance of accommodation with the United States under the current circumstances
because they perceive the US as intent to influence Iran’s internal politics
and undermine it as an independent power. The basis for this perception is
Iran’s own experience under the Shah as well as the situation they observe in
most Arab countries aligned with the US.

The situation might change if the US comes to accept
Iran as an independent power, as it did in the case of China in the 1970s. But,
Iran and the US have not reached such a stage yet. To deal with Iran’s
strategy, the United States has been using its levers around the world to
increase economic and political pressures on Iran.

The pressure on Iran has so far remained focused on
increasingly tougher economic and diplomatic sanctions. Given the internal
coordination difficulties and the prospects of being undermined if it gives in
to the Western pressure, the Islamic Republic has not been in a position to bargain
with the US. Inevitably, it has focused on expanding its military strength and
regional influence to deter a military attach.

 The US,
Israel, the EU, and the GCC, on the other hand, have grown increasingly wary of
Iran’s path. Most other Arab countries, which are aligned with the US have kept
their distance from Iran, but are not active followers of the US strategy. Most
other countries that are not under direct US influence seem to see Iran not so
much as a threat that they see it as a challenge or even an opportunity.

 As a result,
getting them to participate in pressuring Iran further has been difficult for
the US and its allies. Syria and, to some extent, Lebanon have tried to benefit
from their connections with Iran.

 

This has spanned the US negotiations with the EU,
China, Russia, India, and many other countries. But, these efforts have had
limited success due to the benefits that most of those countries get from
maintaining relations with Iran and because of their interest in keeping Iran as
a bargaining chip in their dealings with the United States.

Lessons
Learned

A possible scenario is that under pressure, Iran
might leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and reinforce the
suspicion that it is developing or has access to nuclear weapons.

 This might
drive the US or its allies to rash action, including a pre-emptive military
strike on Iran, with disastrous consequences.

But, it may alternatively create an arms race and
militarized standoff around the Persian Gulf.

This would make oil trade costly and impose
significant economic costs on many people, especially Iran’s population. So, there
are hardly any possible ways that would allow the tensions to diminish and help
establish a more stable and productive equilibrium

Recommendations
for the Future

The sweeping political change in parts of the Middle
East the Arab Awakening, should change some of the equations in ways that may
help move the equilibrium in less destructive directions.

As a result of the uprisings, new Islamist-oriented
governments should emerge in important parts of the Arab world, especially in
Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen. These regimes are likely to be less friendly
towards the United States and Israel than their undemocratic predecessors.

The new governments should be be more sympathetic
towards Iran, but most probably not in any position to form any alliance the
Islamic Republic. The GCC countries need to adjust their positions closer to
those of the new regimes in the region and, as a result, reduce their cleavages
with Iran. This will reduce the United States’ ability to maneuver against Iran
in the Middle East region.

 At the same
time, the US and Israel should be more accommodating towards the Arab public
opinion and show more compromise in their dealings with the Palestinians. This
would take the wind out of Iran’s sales when it comes to the support for the
Palestinian cause and opposition to Israel and the US.