Until very recently the geopolitical configuration of the Middle East appeared to be stabilizing: Iran faced crippling economic and financial sanctions imposed by a growing antagonistic coalition including the US, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.  The US was engaged throughout the region after a period of hesitation. Russia and Turkey were playing their games but their influence was limited primarily to the Syrian arena.

Then suddenly everything came unstuck. The US administration committed a fundamental error in not responding forcefully to the Iranian downing of a US drone, which has led to a weakening of its influence and which was then compounded by a weak response to the Iranian attack on the Saudi oil facilities, further weakening Washington’s position.  Additionally, the administration itself is now in the throes of an impeachment crisis, with the inevitable reduction of attention to other concerns.

Israel can’t form a government, despite two elections in five months.  No resolution is in sight, despite the fact that no one wants a third election.  As a result, Israeli attention is also distracted from regional matters.

Iran is encouraged to continue and increase its provocations in the Gulf, since clear acts of war were largely ignored by their targets

Unexpectedly, severe, widespread rioting has erupted in Iraq and most surprisingly and dangerously, in Egypt.

The result of all this is that the burgeoning anti-Iran coalition is coming apart, with the UAE trying to mend fences with Tehran. The Sisi government in Egypt is looking vulnerable, and Russia and Turkey are now encouraged to increase their interference in regional matters.

This is an explosive mix. Iran is encouraged to continue and increase its provocations in the Gulf, since clear acts of war were largely ignored by their targets. Iran has been led to believe that instead of having to make concessions to get sanctions eased, it can force their removal or reduction by direct action.

There is little likelihood of a significant reaction to this threat from either Washington, Jerusalem or Riyadh for the time being.  Appeasement of Iran would be disastrous, but now forceful confrontation would also flirt with disaster. It is a true conundrum created by the fecklessness of the Israeli and American governments.