A titanic geopolitical struggle is underway.


This is not just any geopolitical moment.

There are many ways to explain the two biggest conflicts in the world today, but mine is that Ukraine wants to join the West and Israel wants to join the Arab East, and Russia, with the help of Iran, is trying to stop the former, and Iran and Hamas are trying to stop the second.

Although the two battle fronts may seem very different, they actually have a lot in common. They reflect a titanic geopolitical struggle between two opposing networks of nations and non-state actors over what values ​​and interests will dominate our post-Cold War world, following the relatively stable era of Pax Americana/globalization that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall. in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the United States' main rival in the Cold War

Yes, this is not just any geopolitical moment.

On the one hand there is the Resistance Network, dedicated to preserving closed and autocratic systems where the past buries the future. On the other side is the Inclusion Network, which tries to forge more open, connected and pluralistic systems in which the future buries the past. Who wins the fights between these two networks will determine much about the dominant character of this post-Cold War era.

(And in case you're keeping score at home, China, under President Xi Jinping, straddles the two networks, along with much of what has come to be called the global south. Your hearts, and often their pockets are with the Resisters, but their heads are with the Inclusives).

Ukraine is trying to break away from the suffocating Russian sphere of influence to become part of the European Union. Vladimir Putin is trying to block it, because he knows that if Slavic Ukraine - with its vast engineering talent, its land army and its agricultural breadbasket - joins the European network, its thieving Slavic autocracy will be more isolated and delegitimized than ever. However, Putin will not be defeated easily, especially with the weapons help of his network allies, Iran and North Korea, and the passive support of China, Belarus and many members of the global South hungry for his cheap oil.

Israel was attempting to forge a normalized relationship with Saudi Arabia, which is the gateway to the numerous Arab states in the Middle East and Muslim states in South Asia with which Israel does not yet maintain relations. But it was not only the Israelis who wanted to see El Al planes and Israeli technologists landing in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia itself, under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aspires to become a gigantic center of economic relations linking Asia, Africa, Europe, the Arab world - and Israel - in a network centered on Saudi Arabia. Their vision is a kind of Middle Eastern European Union, with Saudi Arabia acting as the anchor as Germany does the real EU.

Iran and Hamas want to stop this for joint and separate reasons. Jointly, Hamas and Iran knew that if Israel strengthened ties with a newly modernized Saudi Arabia - in addition to Israel's relations with the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Bahrain under the Abraham Accords - the balance of power between the secularizing network, pluralizing and more market-oriented network in the region and the more closed, anti-pluralizing and politically-Islamist inspired network could be decisively tilted against both Iran and Hamas, isolating both.

Hamas also does not want Israel to normalize its relations with Saudi Arabia without having to make a single concession to the Palestinians regarding their own statehood aspirations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believed it would be the crowning glory of his career - and would prove all his critics wrong - if he managed to seal the opening of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, home to the holiest sites in Islam, without conceding or one iota to the Palestinians. It was a reckless goal - Netanyahu should have offered the Palestinians at least some path to greater self-rule, if only to make things easier to sell in Saudi Arabia - and Israel is now paying the price. Saudi Arabia says it remains open to normalization with Israel, but only if Israel now firmly commits to an eventual two-state solution.

So don't let anyone tell you that the wars in Ukraine and Gaza don't matter or are disconnected, or that they are none of America's business.

These wars are indeed our business, and they are now clearly unavoidable, since we are deeply involved in both conflicts. What is crucial to keep in mind about the United States – as the leader of the Inclusion Network – is that right now we are fighting the war in Ukraine on our terms, but we are fighting the war in the Middle East on Iran's terms.


In the war between Ukraine and Russia, the Ukrainian army and people are bearing the full brunt of the conflict, and are ready to continue doing so. The only thing they ask of the United States and its allies is advanced weapons and financial aid. How is it possible that we refuse? For tens of billions of dollars, and without a single American soldier dead, Ukraine has inflicted a deep setback on Putin's military that makes it much less dangerous to the West and to kyiv. It is the best offer that NATO has obtained.

CNN recently described, according to a source familiar with it, a declassified US intelligence assessment provided to Congress stating that Russia had lost 87% of its active-duty pre-invasion ground troops and two-thirds of the tanks it had before its invasion of Ukraine. Putin can still inflict a lot of damage on Ukraine with missiles, but his dream of occupying the entire country and using it as a launching pad to threaten the Inclusion Network - in particular the NATO-protected European Union - is now out of his reach. scope. Thanks, kyiv.

At a breakfast with NATO leaders dedicated to the Ukrainian issue in Davos this year, Canada's Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland noted that it is we, the West, who should be thanking the Ukrainians, not forcing them to beg us for more weapons.

He also eloquently formulated what is at stake: "What Putin wants is to transform the world order" that evolved since World War II and the post-Cold War, where "competition between nations revolved around who can be richer and who can help his people more to prosper. Putin hates that world because he loses in it: his system is a loser in a peaceful, global, wealth-increasing paradigm. So what he wants is for us to return to the dog-eat situation -dog, to a competition of great powers of the 19th century, because he believes that he can, if not win, be more effective there. Let's not think that this is a Ukrainian problem; it is a problem for all of us."

You are absolutely right.

The struggle in the Middle East has different, and fascinating, roots: the Resistance Network and the Inclusion Network were born there two months apart, in 1979.

The Middle East Resistance Network was born on February 1, 1979, when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini flew to Tehran from Paris, culminating an Iranian revolution that overthrew the Shah and gave rise to the Islamic Republic of Iran, which would attempt to export its ideology to the entire Muslim world, while seeking to expel the United States from the region and Israel from existence.

The Middle East Inclusion Network was born that same year, when the United States mediated the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, allowing Arab-Israeli collaboration for the first time. Also in 1979, Sheikh Rashid ibn Saeed Al Maktoum - ruler of the port city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates - completed the Jebel Ali port, one of the largest in the world, establishing Dubai and the United Arab Emirates as a hub. that would connect the Arab East - through trade, tourism, services, maritime transport, investment and world-class airlines - with almost every corner of the planet.

In 2015, this Middle East Inclusion Network received a huge boost with the 2015 rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - whom I recently met in Riyadh - and his aspiration to transform Saudi Arabia into a gigantic Dubai on steroids and turn it into the cultural, investment, conference, tourism and manufacturing center of a much more integrated region.

Nadim Koteich, a Lebanese-Emirati political analyst and CEO of Sky News Arabia, who helped me see the contrast between these two networks fighting to shape the Middle East, explained that the Resistance Network "is orchestrated by Iran, the Islamists and jihadists" in a process they refer to as the "unity of the battlefields. This network, he noted, "tries to unite militias, rejecters, religious sects and sectarian leaders," creating an anti-Israel, anti-American and anti-Western axis that can simultaneously pressure Israel in Gaza, in the West Bank and on the border with Lebanon, as well as United States in the Red Sea, in Syria and in Iraq and Saudi Arabia from all directions.

In stark contrast, Koteich said, is the Inclusion Network, focused on "weaving together" global and regional markets - rather than battle fronts - business conferences, news organizations, elites, hedge funds, technology incubators and large trade routes. This network of inclusion, he added, "transcends traditional borders, creating a network of economic and technological interdependence that has the potential to redefine power structures and create new paradigms of regional stability."

So today, while the United States is indirectly degrading Russia's capabilities, through its proxy Ukraine, things are different in the Middle East. There, it is Iran that sits comfortably, indirectly at war with Israel and the United States, and sometimes with Saudi Arabia, fighting through Tehran's proxies: Hamas in Gaza, the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, and Shiite militias in Iraq.

Iran is reaping all the benefits and paying virtually no cost for the work of its proxies, and the United States, Israel and their tacit Arab allies have not yet expressed the will or the way to pressure Iran to back down, without entering into a hot war, which everyone wants to avoid

My opinion is that the best way to deter Iran is by reinforcing pressure from within, where the Inclusion Network has more allies: Young Iranians and their aspirations to be part of the Inclusion Network. How do we know? Because many of Iran's young people, hungry for inclusion, have openly rebelled against the regime since September 2022, when a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, was detained in Tehran by the Iranian morality police for allegedly wearing the hijab incorrect and later died in custody.

A regime in which women die in custody after being detained for not covering themselves enough is neither a safe nor a popular regime. Furthermore, many educated Iranians know that their regime is only using support for the Palestinian cause as a cover for Iranian imperialism throughout the region, where Tehran indirectly controls Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. Which is why, surprisingly, we continue to see protesters in Iran expressing support for Israel since the Hamas attack on October 7 and against Tehran's costly imperial adventures. Yes, you read correctly.

"During a match between the Persepolis and Gol Gohar football clubs at the country's national football stadium, agents of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps attempted to drum up support for the Palestinian cause by waving Palestinian flags on the field," reported October 9. The London Jewish Chronicle, publishing the raw images of X, formerly Twitter. "Instead of sympathy, the Basij - one of the five forces of the I.R.G.C. - was greeted with chants from fans in the stands of 'stick that Palestinian flag up your ass!' Footage of the incident went viral on social media. ". It included tweets such as: "True Iranians will always support Israel! The Islamic Republic is an occupying force."

The nonpartisan Stimson Center in Washington in October published a commentary by an Iran-based analyst on Iranian opposition to the Hamas attack, which included a surprising Instagram video posted by a prominent Iranian analyst showing "Iranian university students "refusing to walk over the American and Israeli flags that are often placed at the entrance to universities in Iran as a show of support for the Palestinians." Meanwhile, The Economist reported on "Iranian baristas in cafes" who "pinned Stars of David to their aprons."

This attitude is by no means universal; many other Iranians surely side with Hamas, especially with the civilian casualties in Gaza. However, noted Iran International, a London-based Iranian opposition channel, "'Neither Gaza, nor Lebanon, I will die for Iran,' has been a recurring slogan in many protests in Iran."

The members of the Resistance Network are very good at knocking down and breaking things, but, unlike the Inclusion Network, they have not demonstrated any ability to build a government or a society that anyone would want to emigrate to, much less emulate. (The queue for a visa to enter Houthi-ruled Yemen is not long.) We don't insist on it enough.

For all of these reasons, this is a time of great danger, as well as great opportunity, especially for Israel. The competition between the Resistance Network and the Inclusion Network means that the region has never been more hostile or more hospitable to accepting a Jewish state.

It's a shame that a traumatized Israel under Netanyahu's failed leadership can't see this right now. If Israel could one day agree to a long-term process with a transformed Palestinian Authority to build two States for two peoples, it could decisively tip the balance between the Resistance Network and the Inclusion Network.

The Resistance Network would have nothing to justify the wasteful wars it wages and the weapons it amasses, supposedly to defeat Israel and the United States, but in reality to keep its own people subdued and itself in power. Meanwhile, the Inclusion Network would find it much easier to expand, cohere and win.

As I said, much more is at stake today than it seems

By Thomas L. Friedman - Font: The New York Times 2024