Are we witnessing a transformation in America's image with its allies in the Middle East? What are the Challenges?

The relations between the US allies are experiencing a fundamental change, starting from competitions, alliances, and polarizations up to the communication, dialogue, and cooperation in the fields of security, energy, transportation, and military coordination. This is accompanied by a transformation in the US commitment in the Middle East to head towards the Indo-Pacific region. Accordingly, researcher Muhammad Barhouma presents an interpretation for the change in the map relations between Washington allies. Mr. Barhouma answers the main question: Would such transformations be able to Fill the Strategic Vacuum Resulted by the American withdrawal?

by Mohammed Barhouma
  • Publisher – STRATEGIECS
  • Release Date – Jan 2, 2022

The growing roles of the regional parties, especially the parties allying the US, in terms of the joint cooperation of security, energy, water, transportation, develop the military coordination, and face the threats is perhaps considered by some influencing political, military, and security elites in the region to be a breakthrough for the US image. The continuation of what some US allies deem to be a partial and relative breakthrough for the US image in the Middle East is related to two issues: the first of which is that the current regional dynamisms may lead to ease the intensity of violence and crises, and enhance the settlements, therefore; to enhance the stability. The second of which is that the growing roles of the regional parties would create sustainable arrangements that will gradually fill the strategic vacuum created in the region due to the decline of major Arab capital's roles fort two decades, and also due to the American role transformations in the Middle East.

The transitional environment which some states in the Middle East are experiencing, where some US long-followed policies during the past decades receded, while the roles of some regional parties advanced in a new formation for the Middle East. The same is closely-related to the competition transformations in the world order which was continuing since years. With such transformations, the "Carter Doctrine" became history. With the rise of China, this competition shifted from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific region.

Perhaps the common factor between the growing forms and roles of the regional parties towards cooperation is that the communication and dialogue are advancing over the polarization policies and axis policies, and that the economic priorities; expanding the areas of trade interests and pragmatic benefits are coming first to the priorities and ideology. In addition, there is a wider agreement on enabling the national state over the roles of the non-state actors and proxies. This is related to transformations made by the regional parties towards each other. It is also related to transformations in the significance of players or the significance of their partners, allies, and local proxies, just like what we found -for instance- in the decrease of the Muslim Brotherhood significance over the past three years in Sudan, Tunisia, and Morocco, as well as in Turkey's stances from the Muslim Brotherhood and their mass media outlets in Turkey, the matter which made it be possible for alterations in the Egyptian and UAE stances towards Turkey, thus, possible alterations in the list of threats each party has.

The Manifestations of Coordination Growth and Partnerships Reinforcing

We found coordination and cooperation growth besides partnerships reinforcing by the US-allied regional parties in the Middle East, for example:

1. The "Tripartite Development Partnership" project between Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, which the Egyptian strategic researcher, Abdulmonim Saeed, sees to be a supplement to the Egyptian efforts in the Mediterranean, where such efforts supported a multi-sided regional cooperation that Palestine and Jordan participated therein, and in north of the Red Sea, where the joint Saudi-Egyptian projects in the field of energy and development are. Amongst such efforts, opening the borders between Jordan and Syrian, besides pipelining the Egyptian gas between the two countries were possible, in order to contain the intense Lebanese crisis.

2. The security and military cooperation agreement between Morocco and Israel, signed on November 24, 2001, which enables both states to exchange technology, and to expand the cooperation in the fields of the defensive manufacturing.

3. The declaration of intents between Jordan and Israel, with a UAE financing and a US patronage, in projects of solar energy and water desalination, declared on November 21, 2021.


4. The First-of-a-kind military drills where Israel, the US, the UAE, and Bahrain participated therein, to protect the maritime security and ensure the freedom of navigation.

5. The quartet US-UK-KSA-UAE statement in November, regarding supporting the military and civil components in the Sudan, and the necessity of the civil interim government return.

6. On October 18, and new quartet core was established in the Middle East after consultations between the US, India, Israel, and the UAE, to cooperate in many files, including maritime security and energy.

7. The declaration of the Iranian authorities to open a trade routes between Turkey and the UAE, in order to shorten the period of the commercial trips to eight days, after transporting the commodities from Sharjah Port in the UAE to Mersin Port in Turkey through Bab al-Mandab strait, Suez Canal, and the Red Sea used to take 20 days.

8. The meeting between Abu Dhabi crown prince, Mohamed bin Zayed, and the Turkish president, Recep Tayyab Erdogan, in November 2021, and the declaration of signing agreements and memorandums of understanding in different economic sectors.

America's Image

The fact is that such moves and the increase of the regional parties' roles, especially of the US allies, in the joint cooperation regarding security fields, anticipating the climate change challenges, energy, and developing the military coordination, might somehow be a breakthrough for America's image to some political, military, and security elites effective in the region and close to Washington. Such image can be summarized to be: the duality of the US as a smashing power, and the absolute superpower (The Second Gulf War in 1991, and the US intervention in Iraq 2003) on a hand, and the hesitant USA, which does not want to be the world's cop, neither it wants to be dragged to the Middle East quicksand of wars, or others' conflicts on another hand.

So, multiple dynamics and different attempts to enable the regional solutions are clearly manifested during such transitional period within the security and strategic environment in the Middle East, in addition to the struggle (which is in fact unorganized) to take the initiative (by Washington's allies) to expand the aspects of the regional partnerships and coordination, and to adapt with a new stage where the full-scale American intervention might be limited or dismissed, and where the US is no longer the only global player in the Middle East.

Regional Solutions Experience

However, the regional solutions experience as it seemed, for instance, in the Turkish intervention in the north of Syria since years, were not encouraging within the frame of presidents Barak Obama and Donald Trump tendency towards the US allies to carry a part of their responsibilities, where they should protect their interests, manage their crises, and settle a part of the regional security.

When Christian Heller, the researcher on the Middle East studies, discussed the reasons of lacking a "Middle Eastern NATO" he concluded that “Washington's goal of stabilizing the Middle East by creating a pro-American security alliance while significantly reducing its commitments presents a grim dilemma. It will likely prove impossible.” Heller demonstrated the political and military failure of the joint experiences and attempts over the past six decades in the Middle East. The last of such attempts was the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MISA) which was revealed for the first time during the visit of the former Us president, Donald Trump, to Saudi Arabia in November 2017. Heller attributed the reasons of lacking a Middle East NATO to the lack of trust between the region's political players, the divergence between their goals, and the impotency or the lack of the military inter-operation for many of them.

The idea of the project was an American attempt to form a new regional security arrangement in the Middle East, comprising the Gulf Cooperation Council along with Egypt and Jordan, linking military security to political and economic security, and aims to:

1. confront the Iranian threats;

2. limit the US military and the financial obligations in the security of the Middle East;

3. advance in the Burden-Sharing American strategy, and to enable the allies' fronts to exert organized efforts in the joint security to protect the region's security; and

4. ensure that the vacuum is not to be occupied by China or Russia, and to confront their influence in the Middle East.

Many reasons stood against achieving MISA Project, primarily; the Gulf Crisis between Qatar on a hand, and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, and Bahrain on another hand. The Qatari minister of foreign affairs, Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, while commenting on MISA Project, focused on the importance that the crisis should be solved first.

Gulf States Reconciliation and Peace Agreements

In fact, two new major events took place during more than a year until now. The first of which is that the Gulf Crisis is initially solved in al-Ola Summit in KSA, January 2021. The second of which is signing official peace agreements between Israel and Arab states. The question is: would such two event make any difference? The likely answer seems to be : "Yes, but…." which we will explain later.

During the 17th edition of Manama Dialogue last month, the American defense minister, Lloyd Austin, reiterated the US support for the new peace agreements with Israel, indicating that such new relations would provide new opportunities for joint prosperity and security cooperation.


Both the Gulf reconciliation and the peace agreements may open some horizons for activating the form of the "regional solutions" regarding some of the region's files, or for enabling the diplomatic settlements and solutions, enhance trust-building procedures, and dismissing the military tools in solving disputes.

The Middle Road

In the transitional strategical and security environment the Middle East is experiencing, the question regarding the American role is still very important indeed. It is a cohesion formed by a fundamental American participation, despite talking about limiting the American military effect in the region.

Perhaps the efforts should be focused to exit two roads which their results were unfruitful neither easing enough. The first road, which is to leave some matters to Washington's partners in the Middle East to manage some files on their own, led in the past years to reckless policies, and exacerbated conflicts instead of mitigating them. The second road, on the other hand, is for Washington to maintain its image as an overwhelming power that fulfills its obligations and is willing to treat the interests of its traditional partners as its own strategic interests. For the sake of exiting those two roads, Rand Corporation proposed what it calls the Conditional Alliance, which does not involve Washington in its partner's disputes and crises. It also means risk management in the region, reassessing the role of alliances and partnerships in the grand strategy of the United States in general, therefore, to redefine the US interests. This may lead to a Middle Road: between the US alliances with no restrictions of conditions on the partners and allies, and between the American withdrawal from the obligations.

In spite that what minister Austin said in Manama Dialogue 2021 was met with doubting on how serious Washington is regarding the security of its allies in the Middle East, the Pentagon officials say that Biden Administration is trying, instead, to establish a new work frame based on the security cooperation between the region's state which are friendly to Washington, and that also means that there will be more joint military drills between the US, Israel, and the Arab states, including confronting the drones, which became the favorite weapon for Iran's and its proxies The officials are stressing that what Biden's Administration wants, in the light of a new strategic environment, is to “We want to enhance this security cooperation so that when a need arises, we will know how to work together. Everybody will benefit from this. And yes, in addition to our diplomatic efforts on returning to the nuclear deal (with Iran), those joint exercises are a way to send a (deterrence ) signal to Iran.”

Therefore, the growth of the regional players' roles is one of the main features in such environment. Electing Biden, signing new peace agreements with Israel, the ramifications of Covid-19, and the urgent needs to look for all means of economic recovery are factors that opened the door for re-evaluating the foreign policies of the region's states. Such factors also created joint alliances and frameworks which contain a wide spectrum of players allying Washington. These players are currently taking the initiative in creating new tangible geopolitical facts in the Middle East in the fields of defense, energy, water, security, technology, and security, and in facing challenges such players deem they are coming from Iran and the extremist groups. What is certain is that the latter two are not standing doing nothing. From its side, Iran is looking to find ways to preserve its policies and communicate with its rivals, this affects the new forms of friends' and foes' interactions while dealing with the controversial files between them.

The Challenges

It is likely that we are witnessing a different model of the allies' considerations to their roles on a hand and to the American role on the other, in addition to how to manage the security environment in the Gulf and the whole region. However, such transitional environment is still facing many challenges, including:

1. According to researchers, a promising project, like the tripartite developmental partnership between Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq, is facing a number of challenges regarding Iraq, as the Iranian and Turkish aspirations, and Chinese and Russian interests exist. Some challenges are related to reconstructing Iraq, while others are related to transporting the petroleum and gas from Iraq to the rest of the world without passing the Arabic Gulf, which is strangulated with Strait of Hormuz and the Iranian threats.

2. In spite of what is developments taking place on the level of Iran Nuclear Deal, and despite the Saudi-Iranian communication or the UAE-Iran communication, the final features of such new strategic environment are not stable yet, nor the players therein reached the start point of consensus concerning finding a collective security structure which addresses their fears, expand their common interests, and limit their conflicts and disputes.

3. The regional cooperation platforms are still facing deficiency, and lack of comprehensiveness and constructive balance. The cooperation platform, represented by the East Mediterranean gas, is still dismissing Turkey-the significant player in such reason. The Egyptian and the UAE openness towards Turkey did not reach discussing such dismissal or the other alternatives which different competing parties may reach. This matter also is related to the platform of the new peace agreement with Israel, where such platform is not successful so far in involving the Palestinian party in the ongoing dynamisms. There is a huge effort to be exerted to achieve an assumption, which sees that the Palestinian side should be a winner of such agreements. The international and the regional pressure should be focused on the Israeli side to halt the aggressive actions and the projects of settlements in the West Bank, put an end to the provocative actions in Eastern Jerusalem and the compulsory evacuation operations for the Palestinians from their homes in the West Bank and Jerusalem, not to mention the attempts of the right-wing and extremist currents in Israel to change the de facto around al-Aqsa Mosque, which is done -sometimes- under by the Israeli authorities’ tolerance for limited electoral and political purposes, that went far in causing the two-states solution be more difficult, or perhaps impossible.

4. In correlation to the previous solution, we found out that the project or the declaring the intentions related to the solar energy and water desalination between Jordan and Israel, with UAE financing and an American patronage, is facing a wide dispute in Jordan, and an opposition from Jordan's political, partisan, and parliamentarian elites, in light of the growing distrust between the Jordan and Israel, that the Benjamin Netanyahu's government has deepened over the past years, besides facing an objection to the fact that the electricity and water files in Jordan would depend on the Israeli side. The current Bennett-Lapid government still has a great deal of effort to reassure the Jordanian doubts regarding many controversial issues between the two countries, even if we agree that an improvement in the relations between Amman and Tel Aviv is greater now than how it was during Netanyahu's time in office.

The Jordanian unofficial protests, over the declaration of intent related to solar energy and water desalination, pose a challenge to some of the important forms of regional cooperation associated with Israel or the new peace agreements held therewith, although it is possible that the Jordanian government will be able to manage and contain this challenge and move forward with the project. We saw such a case after the escalation in the Gaza Strip for the fourth time in May 2021, where that war confirmed that it is not possible in any way to ignore (or skip) the Palestinian cause, and that other tracks are insufficient if they would not be parallel to push towards fair solutions to the Palestinian cause, push for serious and honest practical steps to end the Israeli expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and to protect Jordan's inalienable and historical rights in the Hashemite care of Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque.


In fact, if a real and carefully-considered efforts are not to be made in order to address and contain these challenges and grievances, besides other issues of course, and enabling of “regional solutions” then, the breakthrough for the image of the United States amongst its allies and partners in the Middle East will remain deficient, and the regional moves, that this paper shed light on, would be scattered steps and contradicting sometimes, which means that the scenarios of interests clash, returning to the square of dissonance and polarization, and moving away from win-win equation will be the most likely scenarios, the matter that can be avoided if lessons are to be taken from regional interactions during the past decade, where such interactions led all parties to a dead end, and drove them to turn around; make concessions transformations. These transformations are useful, and they will be sustainable, comprehensive, and constructive if the regional parties would resolve, under US and international patronage, to address the shortcomings and deficiency aspects of the aforementioned challenges, and other issues, of course.

This means that the continuation of this partial and relative change in America’s with its allies in the Middle East is related to two factors:

First, the ongoing regional dynamism would lead to reduce violence and crises, and enable settlements, thus enhancing stability, and attempting to avoid zero-sum equations as much as possible.

Second, that the growing roles of the regional parties would to be able to take effective strategic steps and not just tactics, thus be able to create sustainable and comprehensive arrangements that can gradually fill the emerging strategic vacuum in the region.









The opinions expressed in this study are those of the author. In no way does Strategiecs take responsibility for the views and positions of its author on security, economic, political, social, and other issues, and such views and/or positions do not reflect those of Strategiecs.

Mohammed Barhouma

Jordanian writer and researcher