One of the most important historical markers revealed by communist Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Arabia in December 2022 was that outside powers no longer control the greater Middle East.

That “greater” region—Pakistan at the East to Morocco in the West; and from Türkiye (until recently Turkey), the Balkans, and the northern rim of the Mediterranean Basin to the Maghreb and Horn of Africa states down to the Sahel—has developed to the point of political maturity and sovereignty in the modern context, even if not all its states have matured equally in an economic sense.

There is no government in that region that does not now value its ability to negotiate with and balance the great external powers with interests in the region. Indeed, a “great power” is not a great power unless it has interests in the region, which is the transit zone for global trade (including human movement) and a resource point. It is a nexus of global power, now that the issue of energy supply has become only one factor of the region.

The visit to the region by Xi in late 2022 came too late for Beijing to become suzerain over some or all of the region in the way that 19th and 20th-century external great powers dominated the Middle East. Xi knows that but underestimated how difficult it was to persuade regional leaders—now aware that most owe no tribute to the United States, United Kingdom, France, or Russia—to come under Beijing’s aegis. Many leaders have become comfortable dealing with Beijing and viewing Washington as a partner (rather than “a presiding partner”). But they do not genuflect.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Chinese leader Xi Jinping shakes hands with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on Mar. 16, 2017. (Lintao Zhang/Pool/Getty Images)

It seemed that, when it first gained office in 2021, the U.S. Joe Biden administration thought it was returning to the strategic status quo ante in the Middle East. But since the U.S. midterm congressional elections of November 2022, in particular, it appears that the U.S. State Department has set domestic politics aside to rebuild coherent strategic relationships in the broader Middle East, Africa, the Northern Tier, and Central Asia.

The first two years of the Biden administration seemed to have been spent denigrating any MidEast successes of its predecessor Donald Trump administration, and particularly belittled the great boost the United States had received by helping negotiate the Abraham Accords between Israel and regional states Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Sudan, and in attempting to undo the solid U.S.-Israel bond that Trump had built.

That process also led to a renewal of the former U.S. Barack Obama administration’s hostility toward Saudi Arabia and Israel (in favor of cooperation with the clerical government of Iran). It also saw a Biden State Department favoring the old partner of the Obama administration in Ethiopia, the Tigré Popular Liberation Front (TPLF), even though the TPLF had long been unable to cling to power in Ethiopia.

Late 2022, however, saw a substantial change discreetly coalescing in the State Department.

For a start, the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia began working seriously toward normalizing Saudi-Israeli relations, an extension of the Abraham Accords. And this would also revive the U.S.- Saudi relationship while showing Israel that the special U.S. security support had not been weakened.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo (L-R) Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan hold up documents after participating in the signing of the Abraham Accords where the countries of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recognize Israel, at the White House in Washington on Sept. 15, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
This implies that Washington had become aware that the political goal of a revived accord with clerical Iran was unlikely (given Iran’s new shelter in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and its strategic closeness now with Moscow) and, therefore, should not be allowed to interfere with improved Saudi-U.S. relations.

The appointment on Dec. 29, 2022, of Ron Dermer, one of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s most trusted confidantes, as strategic affairs minister seems likely to prove pivotal. He had served for seven years as ambassador to the United States and was instrumental in brokering the Abraham Accords deals with the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco.

As well, the Biden State Department appeared by early January 2023 to have ended or reduced its support for the TPLF against the Ethiopian government. Perhaps some of its support for the TPLF had been based on the proposition that helping the TPLF against the Ethiopian government was also comforting Egypt. But the reality was that even Cairo was aware that while Ethiopia was the ideal whipping boy for Egypt’s water problems, the real culprit was Egypt’s own population growth and its failed water policies.

The new greater region offers no smooth or lofty arrangements for any parties. Xi’s visit to Arabia was “two steps forward, one step backward.” Moscow profited from Tehran’s outrage over Beijing’s pandering to Saudi Arabia. Russia then consolidated its relationship with the Iranian mullahs, offering in late December 2022 to send as many as 24 Sukhoi Su-35 advanced combat aircraft to Iran in exchange for the Iranian unmanned aerial combat vehicles (UCAVs), including saturation loitering munitions.

On Dec. 28, 2022, the defense ministers of Russia, Türkiye, and Syria met for the first time in more than a decade. It dampened Türkiye’s need to launch its proposed Operation Claw Sword to attack Kurdish positions in Northern Syria. The meetings included Turkish National Intelligence Organization chief Hakan Fidan and Syrian head of the National Security Bureau of the Ba’ath Party (and special security adviser to President Bashar al-Asad) Ali Mamlouk.

All this allows Türkiye a greater hand to look elsewhere to build a strategic diversion as its presidential election nears in June this year. Apart from its planned escalation against Greece and Cyprus, Ankara was in December 2022 pouring truckloads of weapons into Priština, the capital of U.S.-supported Kosovo, as the Kosovo authorities and Washington and London—as part of their proxy war against Russia—have been pushing for a showdown with Serbia over Serbian areas of Kosovo. The UK inexplicably also took seven Kosovo Security Forces’ personnel to the British South Atlantic territory of the Falkland Islands as part of a “peacekeeping” arrangement.

So the Balkans is in play, with the United States and the UK preparing again to penalize Serbia for trying to balance its relations between Washington and Moscow. Algeria, meanwhile, leverages Moscow to push Morocco. Ethiopia, fresh from defeating the U.S.-backed TPLF, is growing more muscular, and the United States now must work hard to restore its position on the Red Sea. And so on.

China has made modest gains in the greater Middle East; Russia has consolidated its position there; and the United States and the UK have begun their recovery there. But there is no going back, geopolitically. Regional powers have now emerged. And the region remains critical to the world.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Gregory Copley

Gregory Copley is president of the International Strategic Studies Association based in Washington. Born in Australia, Copley is a Member of the Order of Australia, entrepreneur, writer, government adviser, and defense publication editor. His latest book is “The New Total War of the 21st Century and the Trigger of the Fear Pandemic.”