To understand the set-ups of the never ending Middle East conflict, we must be aware of the more or less openly declared political and religious alliances. To simplify, we can divide the Middle East into two virtual territories: the “Sunni crescent” composed by Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, backed up till the Obama presidency by the United States and Israel, and the “Shia crescent” comprising Iran, the Iraq of the Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and by the Syria of Bashar al-Assad but also by the Lebanese party Hezbollah, supported by Russia and all united against the Isis terrorists.
Out of the crowd stands Turkey: theoretically a secular State, it is also part of the NATO and a buffer zone with the European Union. Forced by geopolitical issues to be ambiguous, Turkey had to build up dialogues with all his fiery neighbors: the Shiite and the Sunni Syria, the terrorists controlled by ISIS and Al-Qaeda, Russia and the pro-Russian republics, the Kurdish and the Armenian groups claiming sovereignty, and with the European Union and the United States as the main NATO partners.
In order to survive into this mess, but also in an attempt to follow the goals of power of its President Erdoğan, Turkey has sided against the Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad. It financed and armed both the Free Syrian Army, considered one of the less radical, as well as the Ahrar al Sham, close to Al-Qaida. But in the effort to fight the Syrian Kurds it also favored the Islamic state by allowing the passage of weapons and foreign fighters across the Turkish-Syrian border nicknamed “the jihad highway”.
In 2016 some events, however, have changed the game set-ups. After a few military clashes between Turkey and Russia, the attacks within the Turkish ground have taken the stage. Some of them have not been claimed by the Kurds of the PKK but by the Islamic State. Last July then, the attempted coup has produced repression and arrests both amongst political activists and government officials as well as university professors and judges, provoking a wave of strong criticism by the Western countries. Most recently, on 19th of December of the past year the murder of the Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov in Ankara gave the last hit.
So, the Sunni Salafi jihadist attacks on the homeland, the strengthening of the Kurds in Syria, the growing gap with the West, but especially the progressive increase of the Russian and Sciite forces in the area – Assad and Hezbollah included – all this has forced the Turkish president to change course and strategy. Against the internal Sunni religious forces and using its secular constitution as a lever, Turkey has tried to get closer to Putin to bring the country into the orbit of the Russian influence as never before. This will cause a diplomatic problem for NATO. Turkey was accepted by the Shiite Crescent and within the negotiations between Turkey, Russia and Iran with the result of the Aleppo fall and of the Turkish army entry into Syria, so that to prevent the unification of the Kurdish Rojava.
The relations between Turkey and the Sunni Islamic State are, at this point, completely changed. From a mutual tolerance they have moved to open hostility, as demonstrated by the New Year’s attack. It could turn out to be some Turkish internal forces and, therefore, the electorate of the President Erdoğan, tight between the Sunni majority that disagrees with the government involvement in the Shiite alliance, and the increasingly strong Kurdish separatist groups who are gaining more and more international consensus.
But it is not only Turkey to pay the price of the violence escalation. The whole Middle East is a target for the Islamic and ISIS extremists. Terrorist attacks are nothing exceptional anymore and are increasingly more frequent month after month. The dead and the wounded are tens of thousands: a small World War. Just the last weekend in Egypt a suicide bomber brought a bomb truck to a check-point causing the death of 6 policemen and 12 casualties. In Jerusalem, a Palestinian ran over 4 soldiers with a lorry, killing them. In Iraq, a bomb car at the Baghdad market has killed 12 people.
After years of conflict between Israel and Palestine, the so-called “solution of two States for two people” seems utterly collapsed. Iraq is internally divided amongst the Iraqi curds, the Shiites, and the Sunni, and for military operations must ask for the support of the pro-Iranian Shiite militias which are not backed up by the Sunni population. In Egypt the situation has not improved with the arrival of the military government of al-Sisi: on the contrary, in some areas such as the Sinai Peninsula security is dramatically at stake whilst ISIS is gaining ground. In Libya there is a big mess, for the ISIS intervention but also for Western and Arab countries.
In the meantime, everyone is waiting for the 20th of January when Donald Trump, the new American president, will take office. Trump is in fact a possible supporter of the Shiite crescent. On his table, awaiting for him, there will be the relations with Putin, the future of NATO, the interests of the oil and energy corporations, the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the Iranian nuclear issue, the schism of Yemen and of course, the civil wars in Libya and Syria. All of this, China permitting. Absolutely unpredictable character, Trump is called to an arduous task and there are many doubts that he has the skills to manage such a difficult and complex situation in the best way. In any case, for the worse or for the better, the brush to redesign a new Middle East is in his hand.