Using unusually hostile language, al-Khalifa said American policy is “transient and reactive,” and “America seems to suffer from schizophrenia when it deals with the Arab world.” He specifically pointed to the nuclear deal with Iran and the U.S. support for the overthrow of Egyptian President Mubarak.
The Crown Prince detests Russian assistance to the Syrian regime, but said it proves that that Russia is more dependable.
“The Russians have proved that they are reliable friends,” he remarked.
The Bahraini Foreign Minister likewise expressed his view that the U.S. is not valuing Bahrain’s opinion.
“You do not need to reassure us. You need to listen to us, because we know Iran well,” he said.
Bahrain is governed by a pro-Western monarchy and is the base of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. It is an important strategic ally and an enemy of both Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2011, Saudi forces helped the Sunni Bahraini leadership crush an uprising by its Shiite-majority population.
Egypt has already turned to Russia after the U.S. cut off some its military aid following the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptians and Russians are on the cusp of signing a massive $2 billion arms deal that includes Mig-29 fighter jets, anti-tank missiles and air defense systems. Some reports suggest the number could be as high as $4 billion.
Russian President Putin longs for the days of the Soviet Union. In 2005, he shockingly stated in a national address, “The collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”
Putin must have been pleased when the Egyptian Foreign Minister explained that his country is also looking to revive those days with this arms deal.
“We want to give a new impetus to our relations and return them to the same high level that used to exist with the Soviet Union,” Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said.
The Saudis have tried to entice Russia into abandoning Syrian President Assad with promises of a strategic alliance and lucrative oil deals. It is probable that the Saudis have renewed and even sweetened those promises in the wake of their falling out with the U.S.
Russia’s invitation to host the leader of the Syrian opposition National Council, Ahmad al-Jarba, indicates that this realignment is being considered. Al-Jarba says he will argue that it is in Russia’s interests to support the rebels and not Assad.
One of Russia’s concerns is losing its naval base at Tartus. If Al-Jarba offers to preserve that base if Russia switches sides, then we could see a dramatic reversal in the strategic posture of Russia and the Arab world.
Putin would prefer to be friends with all Middle Eastern actors, selling arms to all who are willing to pay, but that is unlikely to happen.
In my latest analysis of this issue, I explained that three blocs have formed. One is led by Iran, another is led by Turkey and a third is led by Saudi Arabia. The first two blocs are coming together and will be furious at any Russian courtship of the Saudi-led Arab bloc. Likewise, the Saudis will not stand for a Russian embrace of the other two.
It is impossible for Russia to have a meaningful strategic alliance with all of them, so Putin will have to choose sides eventually.
Russia has more to gain economically and strategically from embracing the Saudi-led Arab bloc. At the same time, Putin is aware that Turkey’s Muslim Brotherhood ally branded Russia the “number one enemy of Islam and Muslims” in October 2012.
Russia is also leery of Turkey because of its NATO membership and ethnic ties to the Muslim minorities of the former Soviet Union. The populations of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan are Turkic, and many also reside inside Russia itself.
China could also be added to the mix. The Russians and Chinese have grown closer since the Cold War ended and especially since the two countries signed a "Friendship and Cooperation" Treaty in 2001 to counter U.S. dominance.
Saudi Arabia is stepping towards China because it is now importing more Saudi oil than the U.S. is. The imports of China and Asia as a whole are only going to become more crucial to the Saudi economy as time goes on.
Like Russia, China also fears Turkey’s influence among Turkic minorities. The Chinese government pursues a hardline policy towards its Muslim-majority Xinjiang Province. The Uighur residents there refer to it as East Turkestan. In fact, the Chinese government is battling a group called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement that the U.S. labels a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
In 2009, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan condemned the “genocide” against the Muslims in Xinjiang Province/East Turkestan. In 2012, he became the first Turkish Prime Minister to travel to China in 27 years. His first stop was Xinjiang Province, where he was cheered by the locals.
If the Bahraini Crown Prince’s words come true, we will be faced with a Turkish-Iranian alliance against a Saudi-led Arab alliance backed by Russia and possibly China. And the U.S. and NATO will be stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.
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