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.