The Gulf Spreads its Tentacles in the Levant and North Africa
For the first time in centuries, armed groups affiliated to the Gulf region are fighting on the shores of North Africa and the Levant of yore. Until recently the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula tended to be the invaded rather than the invader. Now Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar have engaged in combat through proxies in Syria, Lebanon, and Libya. Whether defending their interests, extending their influence or fighting their own internecine conflicts on the soil of other people, Gulf states have made themselves important actors in the Middle East. Proving Mark Twain’s dictum, that “history does not repeat itself but it rhymes,” Turkey has (re-) established its first military base in the Gulf in Qatar from whence it had been unceremoniously booted out at the beginning of the 20th century. Saudi Arabia, which had previously deployed “soft power “ in the form of Wahhabi proselytization, materially supports armed resistance against what it characterizes as an attempt by Iran, the other large Gulf power, create a “Shi’a Crescent” across the Fertile Crescent to the Mediterranean. Iran supports Hezbollah the most powerful actor in Lebanon and the only Arab armed force to ever fight Israel to a standstill. The UAE sees Turkey as a silent partner to the abhorred Muslim Brotherhood and tries to block its influence wherever it can. Wittingly, or no, the Gulf states have chosen to introduce themselves into an arena already overloaded with historical and ongoing conflicts between Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinians. Already tottering on the brink of war, the Levantine Protagonists seem to treat the Gulf interlopers as potential allies or adversaries in their own conflicts. Alliances in that region have become increasingly fluid with old enemies joining up to confront old allies.
What risks have the Gulf States created by getting themselves involved in conflict in the Levant and North Africa? Do Gulf States appreciate the fact that they are now entangled in conflicts not of their own making between some of the most heavily armed countries in the world? Do they believe that they can extricate themselves without harm should events go south? Do states in the Levant and North Africa intend to entangle the Gulf intervention in their own conflicts? Does the United States wish to distance itself from Middle East conflict zones exacerbate the dangers in the Levant and North Africa?
Dr. Gawdat Bahgat (Moderator), H.E. Yaşar Yakış, Dr. Steven A. Cook, Quentin de Pimodan and Betul Dogan Akkas.
Dr. Gawdat Bahgat (Moderator)
Professor, National Defense University; Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Gulf International Forum
Dr. Gawdat Bahgat is a professor at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University. He is the author of 11 books on the Middle East. His areas of expertise include energy security, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Iran and American foreign policy.
H.E. Yaşar Yakış
Former Turkish Foreign Minister
H.E. Yaşar Yakış studied Political Science and joined the diplomatic service in 1962. He served in various capacities in Antwerp, Lagos, Rome, Brussels, and Damascus. In 1988 he was appointed Ambassador to Riyadh, then Deputy Under-Secretary in the Foreign Ministry in 1992, Ambassador to Cairo in 1995 and Permanent Representative of Turkey to the UN Office in Vienna in 1998.
Minister Yakış taught “Turkey’s Foreign Policy” in Bilkent University and, “Hydropolitics” and Turkey’s Foreign Policy” in Hacettepe University. Retired in 2000 and became a founding member of the Justice and Development Party and its Deputy Chairman.
In 2002, he was elected Member of Parliament and served as Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2002 and 2003.
Minister Yakış Participated as a government representative in the European Convention that drafted the European Constitution. Minister Yakış Speaks French, English and Arabic, and mother tongue Turkish and has held several positions:
- Member of Parliament: 2002-2011
- Chairman of the EU Committee in the Turkish Parliament and Co-Chairman of the Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Commission: 2003-2011.
- Chairman of the French Caucus in the Turkish Parliament: 2003-2011.
- Associate Member at the St. Antony’s College in the Oxford University (2012-2013).
- Weekly columnist in the daily newspaper Today’s Zaman (October 2013-14)
- Weekly columnist in Zaman (2014)
- Weekly columnist in Ahval News 2017-April 2020
- Weekly columnist in Arab News since 2017
He is bestowed on the following decorations:
- Decoration of King Abdulaziz (First Degree) by Saudi Arabia;
- Legion d’Honneur (Officier) by France;
- Ordine della Stella della Solidarieta Italiana (Commendatore) by Italy
- Grand Croix de l’Ordre de Leopold II
Dr. Steven A. Cook
Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies and Director of the International Affairs Fellowship for Tenured International Relations Scholars, the Council on Foreign Relations
Steven A. Cook is an expert on Arab and Turkish politics as well as U.S.-Middle East policy. Cook is the author of False Dawn: Protest, Democracy, and Violence in the New Middle East; The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square, which won the 2012 gold medal from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and Ruling but Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey.
Cook is a columnist at Foreign Policy magazine. He has also published widely in international affairs journals, opinion magazines, and newspapers, and is a frequent commentator on radio and television. His work can also be found on CFR.org.
Prior to joining CFR, Cook was a research fellow at the Brookings Institution (2001–02) and a Soref research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (1995–96).
Cook holds a BA in international studies from Vassar College, an MA in international relations from Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, and an MA and a PhD in political science from the University of Pennsylvania. He speaks Arabic and Turkish and reads French.
Ph.D. Candidate in Gulf Studies
Betul is a Ph.D. candidate at a joint degree program between Qatar University Gulf Studies Center and Durham University School of Government and International Affairs. She got her MA degree with the thesis titled “Securitization of Qatari Foreign Policy” at Qatar University. Dogan Akkas completed her BA in International Relations at Bilkent University. Her research interests include foreign policymaking, security, and the social transformation of the Gulf countries.
Quentin de Pimodan
International Advisor, Research Institute for Europeans and American Studies, Greece
Quentin is a research expert at Katch & Reyners, a French public affair agency. He studied engineering in Paris and briefly worked in the oil industry before working for several years for a French publishing house. He spent several years in Yemen, Kuwait, and Bahrain, where in 2014 he co-authored “The Khaleej Voice”, a six-book series documenting urban artists in the six countries composing the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC). Since 2016 he joined the international advisory board of the Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS) where he published several analyses on the GCC with a particular focus on Saudi Arabia.