Riding the Snowball
Pragmatic Problem Solving in the Middle East
- At its most fundamental, problem solving in any context often takes on a snowball or domino effect, with efforts in one corner impacting those in the others. This dynamic is especially the case in the Middle East, where most major challenges are largely interconnected. At the core lies the dispute between the US and Iran, which is one of the three marquee situations on the world stage alongside those involving China and Russia.
- The Israel-Palestinian conflict increasingly appears to be at an inflection point at the time of writing as the sort of militancy that has been common in Gaza since 2007 increasingly spreads to the West Bank, with the looming Fatah leadership transition and continued economic woes possibly accelerating this trend. As a result, a Third Intifada might prove to be more a matter of when than if and would mark a definitive break with the post-2006 status quo. In such circumstances, Washington faces decisions of immense significance that can possibly be deferred until 2025 at the latest but only at a high cost. In the event that Washington frees itself from its counterproductive prohibition on talking to certain major parties in the conflict, a constructive dialogue would quite possibly be around the corner, as those who have taken the time and initiative to listen to the various perspectives on the ground can attest. In the words of a savvy strategist of the last century, one makes peace by talking to enemies not friends.
- Of the various conflicts and tensions underway in the Middle East at the time of writing, the situation in Yemen is undoubtedly the most ripe for resolution, as those who have taken the time and initiative to listen to the various perspectives on the ground can attest. It is increasingly apparent that Riyadh’s focus is on finding the best means to extricate itself from the quagmire across its southern border without excessively sullying the image it seeks to promote. In such circumstances, pragmatic engagement with Sana’a may find a more receptive audience than commonly believed and could provide a boost to efforts to resolve tensions elsewhere. Similar outreach toward Syria, especially on the topic of prisoners, could also bear fruit in the event that it is approached in a pragmatic manner that takes all relevant realities into full account.
- At the time of writing, longstanding tensions between the US and Iran are continuing to simmer at a heightened tempo as they have since the events of January 2020. However, Tehran’s oft-stated offer of a comprehensive prisoner exchange continues to provide an opportunity to begin lowering the temperature and rebuilding trust. Despite the bellicose rhetoric and theatrical saber-rattling, substantive negotiations remain a more likely eventual outcome than conflict barring miscalculation yet will likely not be possible until after the 2021 Iranian presidential election at the earliest. In the meantime, situational cooperation in Nagorno-Karabakh and Afghanistan would provide a valuable means of rebuilding trust and confidence.