BGA Cable: Middle East

Middle East at the brink

The fragile truce in Lebanon between regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, expressed in the coalition government of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and the Saudi-backed Future Movement led by Prime Minister Saad Al Hariri, has been shattered by Hariri’s sudden resignation -announced not in Beirut but Riyadh. Hariri’s resignation speech, which was very hostile to both Iran and Hezbollah, effectively signaled the end of the regional truce between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and a prelude to potential hostilities between Syria, Iran and Israel. Hariri’s resignation came only hours after he met with Ali Akbar Velayati, the Iranian Supreme Leader’s adviser on foreign policy, the de facto foreign policy strategist in Iran. Velayati announced that “Iran will protect Lebanon” which was taken by the Saudi-backed camp as a declaration of Iran’s total control, through Hezbollah, of Lebanese affairs.

Prior to this seismic event Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi announced there will be no letup in the war in Yemen “so as to prevent another Hezbollah operating on Saudi Arabia’s borders”. Just two days ago the Yemeni Houthi rebels backed by Iran fired a ballistic missile that was intercepted around Riyadh airport by Saudi air defense forces. The Saudis claim that they can prove that the missile came from Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon thus introducing a ‘hot’ element to the Saudi-Iranian regional confrontation. Adding to this toxic mix of extreme geopolitical instability is the dynamics of Saudi succession. We have frequently argued that years ago Saudi succession moved from being a quaint regional event to a globally significant factor. The Crown Prince, with the authority of his father King Salman, has moved to intern and remove many powerful princes and ministers accused of corruption, as well as to remove the powerful head of the National Guard, a 100,000-strong internal security force, who is the son of former King Abdullah. He has also moved to arrest uncooperative powerful clerics. Succession dynamics will be reflected, one way or another, in Saudi geopolitically actions in the region, very likely through a more assertive and interventionist approach.

These moves come on the heels of tactical ‘victories’ over Daesh, in liberating Mosul, Raqqa and very recently Deir ez-Zor, giving rise to strategic geopolitical imbalances and exposing key fault lines in the Middle East. Namely; Iran and allies vs Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states vs Iran and allies, and Syria and allies vs Israel. The global context is the Trump administration’s unambiguous hostile posture towards Iran, reversing President Obama’s drive to give Iran a wider berth, and Russia’s by now established position as an entrenched Middle Eastern power with naval and air forces presence in Syria and other eastern Mediterranean locations.

BGA Expert

Bashir Siman

Bashir Siman

Bashir's Bio
Bashir Bernard Siman has spent his career as an investment and banking professional with a strong bias towards strategic risk analysis and geopolitical advice. He actively advises investors and insurance operators from the Middle East, Japan and Europe on their global investment and business strategies, and leads on originating and structuring specific investments.

He has worked for Jardine Fleming, UBS and Nomura in the UK, Europe and the Middle East, Turkey and Japan, where he obtained an International Graduate Diploma from Kyoto University’s Engineering Faculty. He also advised governments on privatisation and economic liberalisation options.

He speaks Japanese, Arabic and Dutch in addition to English. He is an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE).

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