In a friendly conversation with an old man reading The Middle East newspaper at a coffee shop in Riyadh, a question was raised regarding the future of the region as we welcome the new year.
As the question is too broad to be answered in detail, it was narrowed down to address two main concerns: 1) Is terrorism going to end? and 2) Will bloodshed in the region be stopped and will peace prevail?
The short answer to these questions is no. Terrorism will not end, since the dramatic changes that have swept across the region in recent years have produced a fertile ground for terrorist organizations which have not developed their mechanisms of action to operate within the borders of a nation-state; rather, their brutal activities and ideology encroach on the nation state to form trans-boundary and transcontinental organizations.
Sponsors of terrorism, Iran for instance, will not give up their interference in the internal affairs of other countries or stop providing support to terrorist and sectarian organizations.
Terrorism is a sophisticated compound phenomenon that is directly linked to the raising of violent non-state actors within the international system.
This came to the fore in the first decade of this century as the 9/11 attacks marked a clear and evident demonstration. In those events, the United States, a traditional actor in the international arena, was facing Al-Qaeda, a new trans-boundary and transcontinental actor that has no nation, region or nation state institutions. The latter crossed the borders of Afghanistan to hit the US World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Five years later, the July war took place between Israel, a traditional actor, and Hezbollah, an international actor that trespasses the Lebanese borders. In fact, Lebanon never was a part of the war as a nation state; it had no plans for war, and it was the most negatively affected by the war. Likewise, the Gaza war was fought between Palestinian resistance movements including Hamas and the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine on the one hand, and Israel on the other. Most recently, the Syrian revolution, as part of the Arab Spring, brought new trans-boundary and transcontinental actors into the international system, including Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) and Al-Nusra Front.
Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism will never give up interference in the internal affairs of other countries. Revolution is the foundation stone of the Iranian regime that transformed it into constitutional provisions under the pretext of aiding disadvantaged and oppressed people around the world. Thus, interference in the internal affairs of other countries has become Iran’s nature, duty and a source of its legitimacy. Such principles led Iran to disregard all international conventions and disrespect the sovereignty of states. Therefore, Iran will move forward with its arrogance.
When will the region witness peace? It can be argued that two main factors may bring peace to the region:
Firstly, when terrorism is defeated. Institutions of nation states have to be empowered in order to effectively contribute to the fight against terrorism. The security of nation states must be controlled, borders must be defended, and laws must be enacted to form national institutions based on a unified national vision. Such actions may reduce sub-loyalties that enhance roles of “non-state actors”.
Secondly, when Iran is neutralized. Iran can be neutralized either by international pressure to discourage its terrorist actions or by changing the foundation of its regime itself. It has to change from a revolutionary state to one that is committed to respecting the sovereignty of other states, and give up its interference in the internal affairs of other countries. These two factors are the only way out of the regional crisis.
— Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin is a Middle East affairs specialist and security analyst based in Riyadh. He can be contacted at Ibrahim.firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Alothaimin