Washington’s waning influence could change Middle East skies

This is a fictional scenario. The year is 2025. The Israeli air force is training against air forces of Arab countries, those in the Middle East and others in the Gulf region. The potential enemy does not fly F-16s or F-35s but instead Sukhoi-35s and the new T-50 Russian stealth fighter.

Many Israeli defence analysts say this may become reality if things go in the direction they are heading now.

The Sunday Times yesterday ran a story with claims about a secret Saudi-Israeli contingency plan that could enable Israel to attack Iran if Tehran’s nuclear programme is not curbed. There are many big signs that things in the Middle East and the Gulf are changing.

Egypt and the Gulf states see the American influence in the region dwindling, while Iran is galloping towards the “bomb”.

When the Arab Spring began, in the Saudi view, the US abandoned long-time ally Hosni Mubarak, enabled the political rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, of whom the Saudis are deeply suspicious, and then failed to support the Egyptian army’s coup against the ousted president Morsi’s government.

Israeli sources say that the Saudis are convinced now that the US will desert them, like it did the former president of Egypt.

The situation for the Arab countries that are considered allies of the US is even more complicated, with Washington pushing for an agreement with Iran on its nuclear programme that, according to them, is not worth a penny.

So, according to the Israeli analysts, the Arab states in the Middle East and the Gulf no longer depend on Washington.

Russia is moving in. “Moscow will sell the products of its fast-growing defence industry to any country without the strings attached to similar sales made by the US,” one source said.

The changes may reshape the skies of the Middle East. Countries with only US-made frontline combat aircraft may purchase Russian replacements, and this also goes for air defence systems.

Even Turkey, a senior NATO member, is negotiating the purchase of Chinese air defence systems.

The US has lost contact with many countries in the region. This happened fast and will, without doubt, affect how the air forces in the region look, one source said.

If some of the countries involved accept the special offers made in recent weeks by high-ranking Russian delegations, it will cause a shock wave.

The Israeli air force, for now, will keep operating an all-American inventory purchased by US foreign military funds. Will that be the situation in the future? It’s hard to tell but the Israeli sources were only ready to remark “when an earthquake hits an area, the effects cannot be predicted”.

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