‘New Middle East is more of narrative than reality’

September 2, 2020 - 20:28

TEHRAN - In the wake of the normalization deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, U.S. officials asserted that the deal marks the emergence of what they call a “new Middle East”. However, a West Asia expert tells the Tehran Times that this concept is pure fantasy with no roots in reality.

On August 13, out of the blue, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he brokered a deal between the UAE and Israel that would lead to full normalization of relations between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv, a move that was widely touted as a “historic diplomatic breakthrough.”

Under the deal, officially known as the Abraham Accord, Israel and the UAE “have committed to the exchange of embassies and ambassadors, and to begin cooperation in a broad range of fields including education, healthcare, trade, and security,” according to a White House statement issued on August 13.

While the normalization deal sparked widespread outrage in the Muslim world and further fuelled anti-normalization sentiments among the Arab public opinion, U.S. officials cast it as a new stage in the history of the region that will bring peace and prosperity to West Asia.

Speaking at the White House about the announcement of the UAE-Israel deal, Brian Hook, the outgoing U.S. special representative for Iran, declared that the deal is part of a “new Middle East.”

 “What we see today is a new Middle East. The trend lines are very different today, and we see the future is very much in the Gulf and with Israel, and the past is with the Iranian regime,” Hook said.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and his senior advisor, echoed the same remarks during his latest visit to Israel and the UAE.  

Speaking at a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O'Brian in Jerusalem, Kushner said, “On August 13, President Trump, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed announced a historic peace agreement that would create previously unthinkable economic and security and religious opportunities” between the UAE and Israel.

He went further to say, “From President Trump’s very first trip as a president, when he went to Saudi Arabia and addressed the 54 leaders of Arab and Muslim countries and then went to Israel then to Rome, he has been writing the script for a new Middle East.”

The U.S. officials’ remarks on the concept of the “new Middle East” is indicative of the U.S. ignorance of the region’s realities, according to Sabah Zanganeh, a West Asia expert.

“These remarks show that Americans don’t know the region’s geography, culture, and communities. The word Middle East was first coined by the Westerners because they thought that the West was the center of the world. Words like Near East, Middle East, and Far East are all terms coined by the West. Now, they try to coin new terms such as Greater Middle East, New Middle East, and Broader Middle East for the region in line with their new policies toward it. All these terms have been coined in the past two decades, which show that the Westerners lack a deep understanding of the region,” Zanganeh told the Tehran Times.

The expert said the Americans think they can change the region by paying visits to some countries there. However, visits cannot change the region, Zanganeh noted, adding that Trump’s predecessors, namely George H.W. Bush, also was obsessed with the idea of establishing a new world order with no success.

“Bush’s New World Order led to wars. The U.S. officials thought at some point that the U.S. became the absolute power of the unipolar world and thus can reshape the world by coining certain terms. They didn’t understand that narrative is distinct from reality,” Zanganeh pointed out. “The region has its own dynamics and the emergence of the Islamic Republic of Iran has created new realities.”

Kushner and Hook put the concept of the New Middle East in the broader context of confronting Iran’s influence in the region.

“People like Condoleezza Rice, who were more seasoned than Kushner and Hook, had said the same thing but failed to materialize their goals in the region. Rice thought that the U.S. can create a New Middle East by pushing Israel into a war with Lebanon. More than a decade has passed since the 2006 war and they still make efforts to create the new Middle East,” Zanganeh stated.

He also said that in the years after the 2006 war Iran has gained more support in the region which shows the U.S. efforts to confront Iran have backfired.

During the past two decades, the U.S. managed to promote many terms and plans to “transform” the region only to realize that the region is more or less impervious to change. In the run-up to the Iraq war, the Bush administration promoted the spread of democracy in West Asia.

“The world has a clear interest in the spread of democratic values, because stable and free nations do not breed the ideologies of murder. They encourage the peaceful pursuit of a better life. And there are hopeful signs of a desire for freedom in the Middle East.,” President George W. Bush said on February 26, 2003, as he sought to mobilize the world for the Iraq war. “A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region.”

A few months later, Rice called for “transforming the Middle East” and cutting the “freedom deficit” there in an opinion piece published by the Washington Post on August 7, 2003.

“Today America and our friends and allies must commit ourselves to a long-term transformation in another part of the world: the Middle East,” wrote the then-national security advisor.

In 2006, Rice, who was secretary of state at the time, also called for a “new Middle East” in the midst of the war between Hezbollah and Israel.

“As we deal with the current circumstances, we need always to be cognizant of and looking to what kind of Middle East we are trying to build. It is time for a new Middle East. It is time to say to those who do not want a different kind of Middle East that we will prevail, they will not,” she said.

In the ensuing years, the region has become even more unstable and the freedom and prosperity that Rice’s boss had promised have never been achieved.
Zanganeh drew parallels between what Rice said and Kushner’s New Middle East, saying Kushner’s plan for the region will end where Rice’s ended.

“What Kushner and Hook do is the creation of a new narrative, not a new reality. And that the New Middle East is more of a narrative than a reality,” Zanganeh pointed out.

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