In the last decade, the Middle East has been living through a political convulsion of historic proportions.
Regimes that once appeared immovable have been destroyed or have receded. New forces have risen up and are making war over the ruins.
The result of the effective eclipse in recent years of the states of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon has been the emergence of a large and chaotic conflict in the contiguous area once covered by those states. The failure to develop coherent state-loyal national identities in the areas in question has meant that once central authority disappears, a political-military competition based on forces assembled according to ethnic and sectarian identity emerges. A sectarian conflict is as a result now raging between the Iraq-Iran border and the Mediterranean. This dynamic of conflict has now extended to Yemen.
In this maelstrom, the Iranians and their clients have emerged as the single most formidable alliance. It appears that Iran intends to replace the US as the hegemonic power in the Persian Gulf region. The Sunni Arab states of the Gulf are worried by this and are seeking to resist the Iranian advance. The result is growing instability.
What are the reasons behind Iranian success? What are the particular advantages enjoyed by the Iranians and their proxies in this contest? What explains the belated but determined Saudi-led Sunni reaction to the Iranians’ advances? And what are the likely implications of the achievement of a nuclear deal and the imminent lifting of sanctions on Iran on Iranian actions in the region?