Uncertainties across the Middle East

China Military
Yao Jianing

BEIJING, Jan. 9 (ChinaMil) -- The Middle East has witnessed some dramatic changes including the recovery of Aleppo by Syrian government forces and series of defeat of the "Islamic State" (IS). But overall, the conflicts in the Middle East will continue to develop in depth and therefore there is still a long way to go to restore peace and order in that region.

More "lone wolf" terrorist attacks

In 2016, the extreme organization IS was seriously hit by international joint anti-terror forces. In Iraq, government forces and Kurdish forces are attacking Mosul and are making progress. It is possible that IS will eventually lose this stronghold in Iraq.

In Syria, the government forces, backed by Russia and other countries, have restricted the IS in the Al-Raqqah region. From the current situation, the IS may be completely defeated in 2017.

However, the IS has a very strong ideological attribute, and its mobilization and recruitment of its members depends largely on the ideological appeal. Thus, the threat of the organization comes not only from the terrorist activity, but also from the spread of extreme thought. This means that even if the organization is broken, it can still conduct "lone wolf" terrorist attacks. From this perspective, the anti-terrorism situation in the Middle East and the world as a whole is still not optimistic.

Uncertainties remain on Iran nuclear deal

The Iranian nuclear issue has always been an important starting point for the US to sanction and suppress Iran. The Iranian policy is also an important benchmark for observing the US Middle East policy.

After Obama took office, the US became anxious to move eastward and thus did not want to continue to stay entangled with Iran. As a result, the US contributed to the Iranian nuclear agreement in July 2015. After many years, the Iranian nuclear issue finally came to a soft landing.

However, the US President-elect Donald Trump's Middle East policy is very different from that of Obama. Trump has repeatedly claimed to oppose the Iranian nuclear agreement, saying the agreement was a "disaster" and threatened to rip up the agreement on his first day in office.

Iran also threatened that once the US tears up the nuclear agreement, Iran will immediately restart the nuclear program.

The fate of Iran's nuclear agreement in 2017 will be full of uncertainties. As Trump increases investment in the Middle East in the future, the confrontation between the US and Iran will continue to intensify and more intense confrontation between the two countries is not impossible.

Seeking power in the Middle East

The US has always been the largest external force in the Middle East. In recent years, with its strategic contraction in the Middle East, its ability to control the region is becoming increasingly weak. Under this context, many countries began to compete in order to fill the "power vacuum".

At the regional level, allies of the US such as Saudi Arabia and Israel are pursuing an aggressive regional policy to take advantage in the reshaping of the Middle East's future. From the major power perspective, Russia is taking advantage of this strategic contraction and thus constantly making Russian presence felt in the Middle East.

For example, Russia stole the thunder in the Syrian civil war. In addition, Russia has also strengthened interactions with Iran, Egypt, Turkey and other countries. Russia used the attempted military coup to befriend with Turkey, in an effort to dig the wall built by Uncle Sam. When Trump takes office in 2017, the US-Russian interaction model will shift from confrontation to cooperation, but the game around the Middle East will continue.

Grim economic situation in the Middle East

Countries in the Middle East are on the margins of the international economic system. The upheaval in the Middle East in 2011 is largely linked to the deterioration of the economic situation in these countries.

However, the Middle East chaos, which lasted for five or six years, worsened the economic situation. Capital flight, shortage of foreign exchange, slowdown in growth, rising inflation and rising unemployment are common problems in these countries.

As a result, the economic restoration has become the major concern. However, it is not easy to achieve this goal. Egypt, Tunisia and other countries rely heavily on external stimulus. The Egyptian foreign exchange is dependent on tourism, the Suez Canal and remittances. But the current international economic recession makes the economic restoration in relevant countries more difficult.

For Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing countries, the current international oil price remains in the doldrums, greatly affecting their foreign exchange earnings and revenue. In 2016, the Saudi budget deficit is as high as $97 billion.

In the foreseeable future, the space for international oil price rise is limited due to the international economic recession, production increase in Iran and other countries, rising shale gas production and other factors. The economic and political stability of oil-producing countries in the Middle East will face new challenges.

In a word, turmoil and conflict will remain the main theme of the Middle East in 2017 and it is unlikely for the Middle East to see peace and development. The Middle East political restructuring and remodeling will continue to be "on the road".

The author is Tian Wenlin from the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

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