If you heard anything about the Middle East last year – and you would have had to have been hiding under a rock to have not – then it most probably related to the militant group ISIS, and in my opinion, rightfully so. ISIS didn’t just dominate the headlines in 2015; it confused and troubled the world’s super powers more than they were expecting. With conflicting statements on what percentage of its territory ISIS has lost, and media outlets claiming that it has lost a city in Syria one day but gained ground in Iraq the other, there’s no way we can tell whether the airstrikes are actually making a difference. Western states’ reluctance to deploy ground troops is appropriate as the situation in the region is complex.
you cannot defeat an enemy if you cannot even slightly intimidate them
For me the problem lies with the fact that you cannot defeat an enemy if you cannot even slightly intimidate them. Unfortunately, with other issues occupying world leaders like the US presidential election, the refugee crisis and national security, I don’t see them properly taking on ISIS by taking the necessary step of halting their income. With nothing stopping the flow of billions into ISIS’s pockets and most of the interested parties lacking clear cut aims and objectives to justify their involvement, the New Year offers nothing new: the region will remain in its current state of limbo and ISIS will continue to extend its influence worldwide.
there is no end in sight for Assad’s grip on many parts of Syria
This is clear looking at ISIS’ significant gains in war-torn Libya. Although still mostly confined to coastal cities at present, we can expect ISIS to join the battle against other jihadists and militias for governance of the country much more directly in the upcoming year. Given the growing strength of ISIS, the fact that there is no end in sight for Assad’s grip on many parts of Syria ISIS has yet to conquer, and the intensity of air strikes across the country, refugees will continue fleeing to other parts of the Middle East and beyond.
It is doubtful that either country wants a full-scale war
We will also hear more about the growing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran in 2016. Although their rivalry is nothing new (largely due to the Sunni-Shia divide), this is the first time cutting diplomatic ties with Iran has really been on the cards. Both countries are making knee-jerk decisions and not considering the wider and long term implications of their behaviour. It is doubtful that either country wants a full-scale war as both have plenty on their plate already, and if an assertion of regional dominance is the aim it is ill considered and unrealistic.
I believe that we will see an end to this alleged ‘cold war’ within the next few months. The USA doesn’t want to waste the effort it has put in consolidating relations with Iran, and given that Gulf States trade with Iran, it wouldn’t be in their interest to get involved either.
Qatar especially will stay clear since it shares a border with Iran and relies on natural gas reserves in the Persian Gulf.
Yemen, of course, is paralysed by its own conflict and the ongoing onslaught of Saudi bombing. It is already a site for a proxy war between the two regional superpowers and surely at this point only seeks peace within its own borders. The situation in Yemen and international disapproval that it spurs is yet another reason for Iran and Saudi Arabia to put their differences to one side as quickly as possible this year.
With Israel and Palestine, the violence is intensifying. Towards the end of 2015, the phrase Third Intifada was thrown around a lot. The use of this term might be valid but unfortunately the specific tragedies haven’t been presented as they should have been: the effect of deep rooted injustices. Instead, media coverage has tended to skip over the main issues and this, like the violence, is likely to continue.
the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement … is likely to yield more positive change
More focused efforts by the international community on the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, which seeks to address the root causes of the problem, is likely to yield more positive change. Fortunately, I think 2016 will see this movement grow and it is my personal hope that The University of York’s participation in this movement will be one way we can improve the prognosis of the Middle East this year.