Middle East: A Battle for Supremacy among Regional Powers

The Middle East is currently facing a regional cold war between Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey, with each nation asserting its legitimacy to shape and rule the region. Iran, an enduring pillar of hegemony, has a rich history spanning millennia, with influences from the Elamites, Achaemenids, Parthians, Sassanids, and Safavids. Iran’s rich history has fostered a sense of pride and identity in its people, and it has often been the seat of power for empires across the Fertile Crescent and Central Asia.

Iran’s religious legitimacy as the epicenter of the Shia branch of Islam is also a significant factor. The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran toppled the pro-Western monarchy and founded a theocratic republic, giving Iran religious authority as the hub of Shia Islam. Iran has exported its revolutionary ideology to fellow Shia communities, creating a network of allied non-state military actors, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and various groups in Iraq and Palestine. The Quds Force, led by General Qasem Soleimani, plays a pivotal role in coordinating these proxy militias, solidifying Iran’s ideological foothold beyond its borders.

Iran has been a significant supporter of Hamas, the Palestinian armed group that controls Gaza. In October 2023, Hamas carried out a surprise attack on Israel, killing 1,200 people and capturing over 200 hostages. Iran provided Hamas with financial aid, arms, and training, as a significant military power with 610,000 active-duty, 350,000 reserve, and 150,000 paramilitary personnel.

The military structure consists of the regular armed forces and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a parallel force accountable to the Supreme Leader. Iran’s military arsenal includes ballistic and cruise missiles, drones, submarines, and cyber-warfare capabilities. Iran uses asymmetric and unconventional warfare tactics, such as swarm tactics, proxy forces, and sabotage, to counter adversaries’ conventional superiority. Recent missile and drone attacks have targeted US bases in Iraq and Israel-linked ships.

Saudi Arabia, the conservative powerhouse in the Middle East, is known for its historical and religious connection to Islam. The country is the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad and the site of the Great Mosque of Mecca and Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, giving the Saudi monarch the title of “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.” These sites are also the focal points of the annual pilgrimage, known as hajj, which is a religious duty for Muslims. Saudi Arabia strategically uses its religious influence to advance its political objectives and propagate its ideological stance.

During the formative period of Islamic civilization, Saudi Arabia was the center of the Caliphate, serving as the seat of the first four caliphs. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Saudi Arabia asserted itself as the heart of Islam without claiming the title of caliph. It championed Wahhabism, a strict and conservative interpretation of Sunni Islamic teachings, which underpins its historical and religious claims.

The United States, a major non-Islamic power, has emerged as Saudi Arabia’s foremost partner, providing robust military support. The Quincy Pact, forged in 1945, granted the US access to Saudi oil in exchange for military and economic aid. This alliance has been a long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationship between the two countries.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have a strategic partnership in the Middle East, focusing on counter-terrorism, regional security, and energy. The US has supported Saudi Arabia in conflicts like the Iran-Iraq War, the Persian Gulf War, and the Yemen Civil War, and has provided military training, intelligence, and logistical support to the country. As the primary arms supplier, the US accounted for 79% of Saudi Arabia’s total arms imports from 2016 to 2020. Saudi Arabia is being positioned as a crucial American ally and a significant counterbalance to Iran’s influence in the Middle East.

Turkey, with its largest economy and second-largest population, has a unique foreign policy rooted in its Ottoman heritage. The Ottoman Empire, centered in Turkey, was the dominant Islamic power and caliphate until its dissolution in 1924. Turkey views itself as the rightful successor of the Ottoman Empire, viewing itself as having a special responsibility and role within the region.

Turkey, like Iran, is a large military power with a large population, with approximately 510,000 active-duty personnel, 380,000 reserve personnel, and 150,000 paramilitary personnel. As a member of NATO, Turkey has access to the collective defense and security mechanisms of the West.

Turkey has deployed military intervention in Syria, Libya, and Iraq, supporting factions like the Assad regime, Haftar forces, and Kurdish militias. This demonstrates Turkey’s commitment to shaping regional dynamics. Turkey strategically uses proxy forces like the Syrian National Army, Libya’s Government of National Accord, and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to strengthen alliances and extend influence. The current geopolitical landscape is marked by a spirit of cold war, with the outcome of the struggle between Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey shaping the future of the Middle East.

AchaemenidsElamitesIranIraqLibyaMiddle EastMiddle East: A Battle for Supremacy among Regional Powersmilitary structure consistsParthiansSassanidsSaudi ArabiaSyriaTurkey