The rise of the Islamic State astride the territories of Iraq and Syria is leading to the creation of an unusual convergence of interests among very “strange bedfellows”.
A number of dynamics occurred during the past week are especially worth to notice.
Gregory Gause III, at the Brookings Institution, correctly identifies some of them:
“The independence of ISIS, at once a great strength of the organization, is also a weakness. It has the unique ability to unite most of the players in the new Middle East cold war against it. Iran and Iran’s allies detest it because of its fiercely anti-Shia ideology. The Saudis fear it as a potential domestic threat, turning Salafism into a revolutionary political ideology rather than the pro-regime bulwark it has usually been in Saudi Arabia. Turkey, the Kurds, the United States, the EU and Russia all stand to lose if ISIS wins. Its recent successes have led a reluctant Obama administration to re-engage militarily in Iraq and the Iranians to push out Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister of Iraq. Washington, Tehran, Baghdad, Irbil, Ankara, Damascus and Riyadh find themselves with parallel, if not identical interests when dealing with ISIS.”
In addition to the countries mentioned by Gause, something seems to be moving also in Syria. Last week, in fact, the Syrian foreign minister said that the Assad regime was ready to “cooperate and coordinate” in the fight against Islamic State militants but warned that any strikes conducted without the consent of the Syrian government would be “considered aggression.” Over the past days, US officials have repeatedly said that they are preparing military options to combat the Islamic State “both in Iraq and Syria.” The United States has also begun manned and unmanned surveillance flights over Syria, a move recently approved by President Barack Obama. The US administration, however, said it did not plan to notify the Syrian government of the flights.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister met with an Iranian deputy foreign minister in the highest-level bilateral talks between the two Mideast powers since moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s election last year. The two officials reportedly discussed “a number of regional and international issues of common interest”, including the threat posed by the rise of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria.
It is very likely that this unusual convergence of interests among very strange bedfellows will end as soon as the threat of the IS recedes or is eliminated. However, we cannot completely dismiss the possibility that the dynamics started by the rise of the IS in Iraq and Syria might have future effects on the nature of international relations in the region of the Greater Middle East.