The Middle East Needs an Independent Kurdistan to Fix the Power Imbalance

By Hagos Gebreamlak

The Middle East finds itself on precarious ground. With the United States shifting its focus towards the Indo-Pacific to contain China, a vacuum of power has emerged, creating fertile ground for ambitious expansionism. The US withdrawal has left a power gap in the Middle East, and regional players are stepping into the void.

Iran and Turkey, the region’s regional powerhouses, are seizing this golden opportunity, their imperialistic tendencies posing a growing threat to stability.

The US’s strategic retreat, spurred by China’s unexpected rise, has emboldened Iran to extend its tentacles across the region. Iran’s expansionist ambitions and growing influence in the Middle East are already destabilizing the region. This poses a significant threat to the stability of this geopolitically critical area.

Iran’s proxy forces, the Houthis, have already destabilized the Red Sea, a crucial global maritime passage. Houthi attacks on ships transiting the Red Sea have intensified, prompting many shipping companies to reroute their vessels. To avoid the escalating threat, these companies now navigate from Asia to Europe via the southern tip of Africa, disrupting a crucial global trade route.

The Red Sea, a key global shipping lane carrying roughly 10% of worldwide maritime trade, has witnessed significant disruption to shipping, impacting global maritime trade. This has led to an increase in shipping costs from Asia to Europe and doubled insurance costs for vessels navigating the Red Sea.

Meanwhile, Turkey, sensing weakness in the aftermath of US withdrawal, has similarly ramped up its influence and involvement, particularly in Libya, Iraq, Cyprus, and Syria.

The absence of a balance of power in the Middle East is the root cause of the region’s instability and Iranian and Turkish growing influence. This absence of a counterbalancing force has tipped the scales in favor of these two dominant powers, leaving their ambitions unchecked.

The Middle East lacks strong states capable of balancing the influence of Iran and Turkiye. The root of this imbalance lies in the unique demographic composition of Iran and Turkey. This stems from the region’s unique political landscape, where most nations are divided across multiple countries. Only in Iran and Turkiye do single ethnicities dominate their respective states, fostering internal cohesion and stability.

Unlike their neighbors, fractured by multiple ethnicities, religions, and tribes, Iran and Turkey boast demographic homogeneity. Persians and Turks represent overwhelming majorities within their respective borders, fostering stability, national confidence, and, historically, expansionist agendas.

Their demographic homogeneity renders Turkiye and Iran exceptionally stable and dominant. This, combined with their historical legacies, further strengthens their resilience and invulnerability within the region.

Their unfair advantage of internal homogeneity and stability allowed Iran and Turkiye to pursue outward-looking imperial ambitions in the region.

In stark contrast, neighboring countries like Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan struggle with internal divisions, making them comparatively weak and vulnerable.

Neighboring states bordering Iran and Turkiye are patchworks of diverse tribes, nations, and peoples. This internal fragmentation renders them vulnerable and unstable. Conversely, Iran and Turkiye, characterized by ethnic homogeneity and historical cohesion, have emerged as regional powers. Had these neighboring states achieved internal unity and formed strong, cohesive nations, they might have served as effective counterbalances to Iranian and Turkish dominance.

The establishment of an independent Kurdistan could change the balance of power in the Middle East for good.

The Kurdish people, a significant ethnic group with a unique national identity and a long history of peoplehood, are scattered across four states: Iran, Turkiye, Iraq, and Syria. This fragmentation of the Kurdish nation has allowed Iran and Turkiye to dominate their immediate regions.

The establishment of a Kurdistan state could be the game-changer the region desperately needs. Establishing a Kurdish state could disrupt the existing power dynamic.

With a sizeable population exceeding 30 million, a strategic location, and a distinct cultural identity, an independent Kurdistan would create a counterbalancing force against Turkey and Iran.

Kurdistan could act as a buffer against Iranian and Turkish influence. Its presence could deter Iranian and Turkish interventionism and expansionism in the region and potentially push these powers inward.

A stable, well-governed Kurdistan could bring stability in two ways: Balancing Power: It could act as a buffer, discouraging Iranian and Turkish interventionism in the Middle East. Internal Focus: With Kurds concentrated within their state, especially in resource-rich regions, Iran might shift its focus towards domestic concerns, potentially diminishing its external ambitions.

Furthermore, Eritrea’s limited role in the southern Red Sea has created a vacuum that Iran is exploiting to expand its influence in the strategic chokepoint region of Bab el-Mandeb. This reality presents a significant challenge for the US and Israel in the increasingly complex geopolitical landscape of the region. Therefore, the US and Israel should support regime change in Eritrea and its transformation into a Tigrinya nation-state.

The US and Israel have little power, strategic advantage, and legitimacy needed to deter the geopolitical expansion of Iran in the Middle East.

Only Eritrea could fundamentally alter the power dynamics in the Red Sea region. A strong Eritrea, acting as a counterweight to the influence of Iran, could potentially deter Iranian expansion in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

This has been demonstrated throughout history. Eritrea has a history of countering Iranian expansion in the region. Notably, the Aksumite Empire, the precursor to modern Eritrea, defeated the Persian Sassanid Empire and its proxies in present-day Yemen in the 6th century. More recently, Eritrea decisively defeated the Yemeni army in 1995 and secured control of the Hanish islands within three days.

Unlike many of its neighbors, Eritrea boasts a high degree of internal stability due to its overwhelming Tigrinya majority. This unity provides a solid foundation for projecting regional influence.

Situated on the southern Red Sea, Eritrea holds a key position bordering Bab el-Mandeb. Control over this chokepoint grants leverage in regulating maritime traffic and deterring unwanted actors.

A strong Eritrea allied with the West and Israel would be a valuable strategic asset for the US and Israel.

Eritrea’s proximity to Bab el Mandeb, its internal stability due to Tigrinya dominance, and its historical resistance to Iranian imperialism all make it a natural and capable counterweight to Iran in the region.

(This article was previously submitted for consideration to the Jerusalem Post but was not ultimately selected for publication.)

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