The Middle East Conflict: 1,001 Alliances

02/26/2015 12:41 pm ET | Updated Apr 28, 2015

Trying to explain the Middle East to someone who is not familiar with the intricacies of its alliance policies can seem so unreal that often the fables of the One Thousand and One Nights may seem more probable.

The Middle East is in constant turmoil, perpetual anger, increasing hate and growing violence. Recently, that anger, hate and violence have taken the region to a new dimension of horror.
The Arab Spring had brought about an expectation of hope and better days ahead, instead the region was propelled into the lowest circle of hell. What happened and how did it get there?

Well in very simple terms it's like this:

The civil war in Syria has weakened the government of President Bashar Assad and allowed resistance groups to establish a foothold in territory taken over when government forces were defeated. The same applied to Iraq.

The strongest of the rebel forces was the group that became known as the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Unlike most of the other Syrian resistance groups who are fighting to liberate Syria from the brutal dictatorial regime of Bashar Assad, and in Iraq oppose the Shiite-dominated government, ISIS wants much more. As a first step ISIS wants to take over the countries surrounding Syria and Iraq.

They use extreme violence as means of intimidation and do not shy away from killing people by the thousands. They claim to be purists in Islam, but have been denounced for their terror behavior by most of the Arab and Muslim world.

Even al-Qaida, condemned them for the horrific manner in which the captured Jordanian pilot was murdered. Osama bin-Laden and his replacement, Ayman al Zawahiri, were both against the pre-mature establishment of the caliphate, and told Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi not to go ahead. He did anyway.

ISIS is a Sunni Muslim movement, though that has not prevented them from going to war with the Kurds who are also predominantly Sunni. The top leadership and many of the initial members of this organization are former members of the Iraqi Baath Party under former leader Saddam Hussein. Many are battle hardened.

The dual conflict -- the war in Syria and the absence of peace in Iraq -- have given rise to a plethora of alliances, counter-alliances and counter, counter-alliances, and in the process rendering the age-old adage "that the enemy of my enemy is my friend," somewhat irrelevant. Sometimes the enemy of my enemy is now my enemy and sometimes not.

Who are the friends and who are the enemies? ISIS has murdered thousands of Shiites simply because they were Shiites. The government in Baghdad is mostly Shiite and is supported by the United States and by Iran. So the US and Iran finally see eye-to-eye and are fighting on the same side?

Not quite that simple.

Iran also supports the regime in Damascus, whom Turkey, and the U.S. want to see toppled, and while the US and Iran find themselves on the same side, yet one should add, at the same time, the U.S. and Iran are involved in nuclear talks. Additionally, Iran supports the Lebanese Shiite movement, Hezbollah, which the United States considers a terrorist organization. And while Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, along with the U.S., find themselves allies in NATO, they disagree over which side to support in the Syrian conflict.

Washington continues to disagree with its regional allies on how to proceed in Syria. Although Washington is leading the campaign against ISIS, it does not seem fully committed to the task. Frustrated by Washington's half measures, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a speech in early January criticized President Obama, saying: "If you are doing something, do it properly. If you are going to do it with us, you need to value what we say."

The end game for ISIS is to topple the government of Saudi Arabia and destroy the state of Israel. Strange as it may seem, this has not prevented Saudi Arabia from offering limited support to IS, not so much for its willingness to take on Israel, but more so because ISIS is possibly the only entity capable of defeating the Syrian government.

Israel on the other hand must be delighted to see both ISIS and the Syrians weakened. However, it is very premature and potentially very dangerous for the Jewish state to think that this is a good thing in the long run. A victory by the Islamic State over Damascus would place the ISIS terrorists right on Israel's back door.

This in a nutshell is the Middle East today. To paraphrase a former French ambassador in the region: "If you think you understand the problems of the Middle East it means it was badly explained to you."

Indeed, to begin to understand the full complexities of the region it could well require a thousand and one nights, and then some.

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Claude Salhani is senior editor at Trend Agency and a political analyst. You can follow Claude on Twitter @ClaudeSalhani