The United States is Losing the Middle East Coalition

by Mordechai Kedar – Bar-Ilan University & the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East & Islam

27-10-2013 – Ever since the seventies, the world has become accustomed to the split in the Middle East, between those countries that support the West – Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco and Israel, and we might add Turkey to this list as well. This coalition was strong mainly because of the dangers posed by those countries that were members of the opposing, Soviet, coalition: Syria, Libya, Iraq and South Yemen. Lebanon was then between the democratic hammer and the Syrian anvil.

Despite the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of the eighties, there were no big shifts in political orientation, and the countries that were faithful to the Western bloc led by the United States remained faithful to it until recently, mainly because a new hostile bloc was formed, led by Iran and supported by Russia and China. The stronger the Iranian threat became, the more the pro-Western countries depended on America for support. Lately, however, the pro-Western coalition has begun to crumble, and two key countries – Saudi Arabia and Egypt – are searching for a new political crutch, ever since it became clear to them that the American crutch is nothing but “a broken reed” (Isaiah, 36:6). A few more countries can be added to this list, mainly Turkey and the Gulf Emirates.

Saudi Arabia

In an unprecedented move, the Saudi kingdom has refused to become a member of the most powerful body in the world, the Security Council of the UN, a body authorized to deal with the world’s security problems and, with the power of the authority vested in it, can even declare war as a world body on a country that violates its resolutions. The question that immediately arises is: why did Saudi Arabia refuse to become a member of the body that is perhaps the only one capable of dealing with Iran’s military nuclear project? Why did Saudi Arabia reject the opportunity to influence events in Syria from within the Security Council? Why doesn’t Saudi Arabia take advantage of the most important stage in international policy in order to take action against Israel?

The superficial reason is that which the Saudi foreign office published, expressing an ethical position: the kingdom will not agree to enter the Security Council until the Council undergoes reforms that will enable it to fulfill its role, which is to maintain world peace. The obsolete apparatus, the wasteful practices, and double standards used by the Security Council all prevent it from fulfilling its role. There are many examples of this: the Palestinian problem has not been solved despite it having been created 65 years ago, and despite the fact that the wars stemming from it have threatened the peace of the entire region and the world several times. The Council allows the Syrian dictator continue slaughtering his citizens for almost three years without imposing effective sanctions, and the Council has failed to achieve the goal of turning the Middle East into an area free of weapons of mass destruction because it has not managed to create an effective method of oversight for military nuclear projects.

 Despite the fact that the Saudis do not speak specifically about Iran in their official announcement, it is clear that their reference is not to Israel, from whom they fear no danger, but to Iran, whose nuclear plans do keep them awake at night. However, it is specifically the Iranian nuclear issue which should have pushed Saudi Arabia to become a member the Council; membership could have granted them an active role in making decisions against Iran, so why not join?

In part, the reasons relate to the way that the Saudis see the international alignment of countries recently but is also connected to the customary culture of honor in the Middle East, without which it would be impossible to understand the behavior of the Saudis, proud sons of the desert.

First of all, a person of honor does not join a club where he is considered a class ‘B’ member. In the Security Council there are class ‘A’ members – the five permanent members (the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China) who have nuclear weapons and veto power, and there are class ‘B’ members – the ten countries with temporary membership, who are not allowed to attain nuclear weapons and do not have veto power. Saudi Arabia would in no way agree to be a class ‘B’ member of any organization, and would prefer not to join because honor is more important to it than anything else.

Secondly, a person of honor does not want to be a rubber stamp for countries whose policies it doesn’t agree with and he doesn’t want to be subservient to others. The Saudis know that in the Security Council they would have to behave according to the American-Western dictates, despite the fact that they do not at all agree with the policy of the West in general and Obama’s in particular toward a wide array of issues. The Saudis do not want to be identified with American support of Israel, with Obama’s appeasement of Iran and with the Western inaction against Asad, the infidel murderer of Muslims. The Saudis also disagree with the United States’ support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, because the Saudis support Sisi with all of their might, while the United States pressures Sisi – the mass murderer who destroys mosques with fire – to restore power to the Muslim Brotherhood, whom the Saudis loathe.

Of all the myriad of issues on which they disagree with the United States, the Saudis are most angry with the United States because of the American failure to stop the Iranian military nuclear plan, despite the fact that for the last five years President Obama has promised innumerable times that he will not allow Iran to attain a nuclear bomb. From the Saudis’ point of view he has broken his promise, and erased himself from the list of people that the Saudis want to be in the same picture with.

Recently he even increased their fury with the attempts at appeasing the Iranians, and especially with Obama’s pathetic bid to meet Rouhani when he was in the United States for the UN General Council. Rouhani refused to meet with him but ultimately agreed to receive a telephone conversation from Obama as Rouhani was on his way to the airport. Obama’s behavior humiliated not only himself but also his allies, and from the Saudis’ point of view he dealt them and their honor a severe blow.

A third reason for the Saudi refusal to join the Security Council is the fact that Saudi Arabia constantly works against the security of many countries: it is Saudi Arabia who finances Sunni terror in Iraq, her billions serve to oil the hundred of jihadi militias in Syria, and the Saudis pay many petro-dollars to spread radical Wahhabi Islam in Europe, Africa, Asia and America. To sit on the Security Council would be a contradiction of Saudi Arabia’s activities, which actually undermine the security of many countries, and therefore might put the Saudis into embarrassing situations. And embarrassment is the last thing that a man of the Middle East is willing to tolerate, besides shame. The government in Saudi Arabia prefers to act behind the scenes, to exert influence secretly and to act unseen, because that is where its strength lies. Sitting in the Security Council will place Saudi Arabia in the center of focus, and it is not consistent with the style of the Saudis, who prefer to act and exert influence without exposing themselves. They have everything, and they have a lot to lose. Sitting in the Security Council will not add to their reputation and will increase their friction with the nations of the world, friction that is uncomfortable to them because of their conservative and separatist points of view.

Human Rights Organizations

 Western countries boast about their strict observance of human rights, within their own territories and in other countries. They allow NGOs to act freely in this matter, and some of these human rights organizations receive economic benefits such as government support and tax exemption on donations. Western countries use the reports that these organizations publish as a basis for determining their policy, despite the fact that these publications stem from the very specific cultural agenda of the organizations’ members and their financers.

Last week, the London-based organization, Amnesty International published an especially harsh report on Saudi Arabia. According to the report, Saudi Arabia does not act in accordance with the recommendations of the UN (meaning the West) in all matters related to human rights and civil freedoms, and since 2009 has even intensified the oppression of its civil rights activists through arbitrary arrests, torture and trials where the rights of the accused are not upheld. Women and foreign workers in Saudi Arabia are treated negatively, and members of non-Islamic religions are persecuted relentlessly. The Amnesty manager of the Middle East region and North Africa accuses Saudi Arabia of breaking all the promises it made to improve its human rights situation, while using economic force and political influence.

The report was publicly presented in the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and the fact that it was presented in front of the entire world raised the ire of the Saudis, who accused Amnesty and the Council of double standards. The Saudis are extremely furious toward Amnesty specifically, and the West in general because the Saudi says to himself: “Look at these hypocrites: they travel to work in a car powered by Saudi fuel, fly first class all over the world in jets that fly on Saudi fuel, sit in a fancy air conditioned office powered by electricity from Saudi oil, run a country with banks that are based on Saudi money, and spit into the Saudi oil well that allows them to live so comfortably and criticize the Saudis so sharply “.

The problem is especially grievous when Western criticism touches on the status of women and their rights in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi ban on women walking in the street without the accompaniment of a man, and the ban on women driving, voting or being elected is a religious and cultural matter, and the Saudis are totally unwilling to accept the dictates of cultural colonialism from the West, which wants to measure them, their values and their customs and traditions, against Western criteria. The Saudi is amazed: “What makes the Western, materialistic and permissive infidels think that they are better than we are?

The negative view of the Shi’ites in East Saudi Arabia stems from the Wahhabi concept that Shi’a is a sort of heresy at its core. The ever-present suspicion that the Shi’ites are biased toward Iran makes the Saudi regime apprehensive about the residents of the Eastern area, where the country’s oil reserves are located, under the Shi’ites’ feet. The Saudi regime constantly suspects that Iran is trying to undermine it, with the support of the Shi’ite minority, so who gave Amnesty the right to stick its nose into such a sensitive matter as Saudi national security?

Recently a number of “human rights” organizations, especially Amnesty, began criticizing the way the United States uses drones in the battle against al-Qaeda and its subsidiaries, in Pakistan and Yemen. These organizations claim that not only terrorists are killed in these attacks, but innocent citizens are killed as well. The effort that the United States invests in locating the terrorists and eliminating them does not impress these organizations, and they intend to bring the public figures that are involved in operating the drones to trial for war crimes.

Saudi Arabia also suffers from terror carried out by the organization al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), mainly from those of its people who took shelter in tribal areas of Yemen. Every few weeks, the United States eliminates world jihad operatives in Yemen, apparently with the support of Saudi intelligence. Now, here come the Western bleeding hearts organizations, demanding to stop the Western drone operations against al-Qaeda, the enemy of the West and Saudi Arabia. Is this how the West conducts itself? Is this how we can count on the West? On one hand it fights terror and on the other hand tries to tie the hands that are fighting it? This Western hypocrisy discourages the Saudis from cooperating with us at all.

The activity of Western organizations like Amnesty arouses doubts among the Saudis about how closely they want to affiliate themselves with the West. If the Western countries allow Amnesty to operate within their countries against Saudi Arabia and make it a target for the arrows of unjustified and illegitimate criticism (in the Saudi view), and if Western organizations act against the war on terror, then why should the Saudis maintain a relationship with Western countries? Perhaps they should form ties with Russia and China, countries that do not burden Saudi Arabia with annoying questions about human rights, and don’t bother the royal house with matters that make no sense to them like the rights of women and foreign workers?


The United States is losing its influence in this country as well, because of its attachment to President Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood movement. The United States even froze part of its annual aid to Egypt, which very much angered the Egyptians. Even if the Egyptian army can manage if the supply of American weapons is stopped, by cutting back the aid, Obama has dealt a severe insult to the Egyptians who are proud of themselves, their country and the history of their people over thousands of years. Just for comparison: How old is the United States?

American support for the Muslim Brotherhood continues on, despite the fact that the army – who took the country from them – is fighting the Brotherhood in every possible way, and is openly supported by many sectors of the Egyptian population. Recently it has been reported that Putin may visit Egypt, and this visit to Egypt is not only for a sail on the Nile and a visit to the museums. Everyone knows that Putin’s visit has a political meaning, and that Sisi’s Egypt is searching today for a new crutch, since the American one has been fairly disappointing to the uniform-clad, old-new rulers of the Land of the Nile.


Since 2002, when Erdoğan rose to power, Turkey has been turning ever increasingly towards a political Islam of the same sort as the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey refused to participate in the war that the NATO allies waged against Saddam Hussein in 2003, and is furious and insulted over Europe’s political objection to its joining the European Union. Its negative relations towards Israel is based on the Islamic view that negates in principle, the right of Jews to live as sovereigns in their land, instead of “ahal dhimma” (second class citizens) under the auspices of Islam.  There have been reports recently that Turkish intelligence exposed an Israeli spy network operating in Iran, and in doing this, Turkey broke the basis of faith that is so essential to intelligence and security cooperation. As a result, the United States stopped the delivery of drones to Turkey, because if they expose Israeli agents to Iran they would certainly give Iran the secrets of American drones. The conclusion to be drawn from this is that also regarding Turkey – which is still an official NATO member – there are doubts if it is indeed an integral part of the Western coalition.


In Israel, there are a steadily increasing number of people who do not believe that the two-state solution – which the American government is trying with all of its power to promote – will bring real peace between us and the Arabs. The split between Gaza and Ramallah will not end in the foreseeable future, and the problem of terror from Gaza will not be solved even if Israel totally withdraws from Judea and Samaria. Moreover, no one in the world – not even Obama – can promise that an Arab state in Judea and Samaria will not become another Hamas state, whether by elections as happened in January 2006, or by violent takeover as happened in Gaza in June 2007. The Americans, who are pushing the two sides toward a two-state solution, would be bringing existential danger upon Israel, and many in Israel ask: If this is how our friends behave, what would our enemies do?

To this we must add several factors: the anti-Semitic spirit flooding the academic institutions in the United States, hidden behind anti-Israeli slogans; the Western political correctness that allows everyone to attack Israel but not its enemies; the fact that Islam that is gaining strength in Europe and the United States and influences Western policy in the Middle East; and the steady decrease in number, power and support of Jews in the United States.  In view of all of these factors, it is not at all clear that Israel has any reason to remain forever in the Western camp.

With the ruling family in Saudi Arabia enraged toward the United States and the West, and the regime in Egypt furious with the United States and searching for friends in other places, with Turkey behaving as if it is part of the Iranian effort and when so many Israelis have the uncomfortable feeling that the United States and Europe are acting against Israeli interests, it is not clear that the United States and the West has a coalition in the Middle East. Based on what seems like the disintegration of the Western coalition in the region, it may be that Israel must develop her relations with rising powers in the world, such as China, even if some Americans might not like it.

 Dr. Mordechai Kedar ( ) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.

Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav with permission from the author.