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A portrait of US President Donald Trump is set on fire by Iranian mourners during a state funeral for a young Revolutionary Guard soldier beheaded by Islamic State in Syria, in Tehran last September 27. Photo: AP

As US loses ground in Mideast, the stage is set for China and Russia to mull military alliance with Iran

Middle East

Have you ever wondered about the chaos and confusion coming out of the Middle East? Did you ever think the day would come when America’s leadership in the Middle East ceased to exist? Can you guess who is running Mideast affairs today?

Welcome to the new reality of the Mideast where Iran, Russia and Turkey now run the show – and with increasing influence from China. The United States may well make diplomatic visits (as President Donald Trump did to Saudi Arabia last year) but we no longer exert muscle there and we no longer build on alliances.

Let’s start with Russia. Under Russian President Vladimir Putin, its long-term objective in the Middle East is reshaping political trajectories and ensuring outcomes that favour the Kremlin. Russian expansion and new alliances in the region suggest its strategy – no matter how clumsy it may initially seem – is in fact working.

Iran has concluded that the US has lost all credibility and leadership in the region

Russia just signed a deal with Syria for a permanent Russian naval base, its only naval foothold in the Mediterranean.

Another consideration: Putin wants to revisit and develop relations with Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Syria and Egypt to avoid the negative impact of international sanctions by such powers as the US, and to put pressure on the West and weaken its resolve. And don’t forget: as oil prices hover around US$60 (HK$470) a barrel, Russia’s increased presence in the Middle East is driven by changes in the energy market, mainly oil and gas.

As to Iran, it has concluded that the US has lost all credibility and leadership in the region. The Iranian leadership figures the US, for all its sabre-rattling, is not ready to engage in another military conflict in the Middle East.

Bottom line: global players, mainly China and Russia, will not miss the opportunity to shape, or at least play a pivotal role in shaping, the geopolitical trajectory and landscape of the 21st-century Mideast, especially as their interests there multiply.

Be on the lookout for China and/or Russia to soon enter into a strategic partnership with Iran that develops eventually into some sort of formal military alliance.

Could we one day see either Russia or China establish a naval base in Iran? The possibility is there – now more than ever.

Dr David Oualaalou, founder, Global Perspective Consulting, Dallas, US

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: As US loses ground, stage set for China-Russia-Iran military alliance in the Middle East