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The Middle East’s Kumbaya Moment Won’t Last

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06.05.2022

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Saudi Arabia, where he met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman. In late April, Iranian media confirmed that senior security officials from Saudi Arabia and Iran had met for a fifth round of normalization talks held under the auspices of the Iraqi and Omani governments. In March, Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, visited Turkey—the first visit of a senior Israeli official to that country in 14 years. The same month, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad dropped in on Dubai’s Expo 2020 and met with Emirati leaders. Erdogan paid a visit to the United Arab Emirates in February after Abu Dhabi’s crown prince traveled to Turkey last November. And over the winter, the Emiratis and Iranians exchanged trade and investment delegations.

All this diplomatic activity has certain corners of Washington buzzing about regional “de-escalation” and “realignment.” It is a data point for advocates of U.S. retrenchment from the Middle East, the logic being that if regional actors are behaving responsibly and settling their differences, then the United States can draw down and only return in the event of a crisis.

That sounds great, but I don’t buy it. Not the arguments in favor of retrenchment and offshore balancing; those make sense (though mostly only in journal articles—when the United States tried this in the 1970s, it didn’t work, resulting in a long-term U.S. commitment to Gulf security). What I don’t buy is that this recent flurry of diplomacy heralds some new era of peace, love, and understanding in the Middle East. Rather, the various resets and outreach underway in the region are merely another means by which its leaders can pursue the same competition and conflicts of the past decade.

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Saudi Arabia, where he met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman. In late April, Iranian media confirmed that senior security officials from Saudi Arabia and Iran had met for a fifth round of normalization talks held under the auspices of the Iraqi and Omani governments. In March, Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, visited Turkey—the first visit of a senior Israeli official to that country in 14 years. The same month, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad dropped in on Dubai’s Expo 2020 and met with Emirati leaders. Erdogan paid a visit to........

© Foreign Policy


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