[Viewpoint]Middle East power is balancing out

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[Viewpoint]Middle East power is balancing out

The ancient Mesopotamian civilization that emerged on the land between the Tigris River and the Euphrates River collapsed more than 2,500 years ago due to invasions from many foreign tribes. Like Egypt, surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea and the Sahara Desert, there are not many natural barriers in that region. As can be seen in the operations of “Desert Storm” in 1991 and “Shock and awe” in 2003, the wars here have always ended up with clear results. Because the region has open deserts and no particular place to hide, the Iraqi army could not rival the cutting-edge weapons of the allied forces.
Even during the 19th century imperialistic era, Mesopotamia and its adjacent area easily gave away their sovereignty to foreign forces. After oil was discovered in this area and it became the center of world energy, major Western oil companies obtained the right to develop the area.
Reportedly, the United States, which occupied Iraq (which has the second-largest crude oil reserves in the world), secured the rights to a substantial number of oil fields in Iraq by making agreements lasting more than 50 years. In other words, the heyday of the United States has come in the Middle East. Most Arab leaders are anxious to read the real intentions of the United States to maintain their regimes.
But the United States has also produced adverse effects as it meddles with Iran. Dr. Muhammad Sultan at the Al-Ahram Center For Political Science and Strategic Studies points out, “It is a great political mistake for the United States to provoke Iran.” Iran is the second-largest military power in the Middle East after Israel. Unlike Iraq, which became vulnerable because it experienced severe economic sanctions over a decade, Iran is not a country that can be handled easily. The country has considerable influence in the region as the suzerain of the Shiites, so Iran cannot be ignored politically either. The Shiites not only seized power in Iraq, Iran’s neighboring country, but have also exercised influence over Syria and Lebanon to its west, as well as Shiite residents in Kuwait, Oman and Yemen to the south. Dr. Sultan emphasizes, “These countries will not sit by idly and watch the United States attack Iran.”
An adverse effect also took place due to the interventions of Russia and China in the Middle East. China and Russia reluctantly voted for the U.S.-led resolution on economic and diplomatic sanctions against Iran. But their cooperation will stop there, and they will never allow the same situation that happened in Iraq to occur again in Iran.
Since the occurrence of war in Iraq, China has strived to make inroads into the Middle East and Africa because the country is anxious about its energy supply. Since 2003, China has invested millions of dollars in oil fields in Gulf coastal countries, including Saudi Arabia. China has also poured a huge amount of money into African oil fields. The country also entered into a $16 billion agreement with Iran on the North Pars gas field development in October 2006.
Russia, which secured a base in the nuclear facility and energy sector in Iran more than 20 years ago, recently began to make an energetic move.
Vladimir Putin’s visit this week to three pro-American countries -- Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan -- for the first time as the Russian president is seen as a sign that he will not just remain a spectator as the United States pressures Iran.
In other words, because the United States lost public support over Iraq and its wrangling with Iran, Russia is making a prompt attempt to join hands with the Middle East. On the surface, Russia appears to simply be strengthening its energy cooperation over Saudi Arabia’s oil fields and Qatar’s gas fields, but underneath that the country suggests it will break new ground in the weapons market.
The Middle East is turning into a field of competition again among the world’s three powers ― the United States, Russia and China. Middle Eastern countries seem to welcome this balance of power.
It was in the same context that King Abdula of Saudi Arabia gave a hearty welcome to Mr. Putin. Middle Eastern countries, which have golden resources but lack the physical force to protect themselves, cannot help but welcome a multilateral system in which no one can exercise absolute power.
Historians say Mesopotamians enjoyed peace for hundreds of years between the 3rd and 7th centuries while the Byzantine Empire in the west and the Sassanian Persian Empire (226-651 A.D.) in the east vied for hegemony.

*The writer is the Cairo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Seo Jung-min
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