As 2022 winds down, now is an opportunity to think about events in the Middle East this year and what could happen within the region in 2023. It seems likely that Iran, Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia will all have newsworthy events.
Iran: Continued Civil Unrest
In Iran, it has now been 100 days since civil unrest began after the death of Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in police custody. Iran’s ruling clerics have not changed course and even doubled down on the protestors by publicly executing young demonstrators.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DIPC), the Iranian regime executed protestors Mohsen Shakari and Majidreza Rahnavard in December. It looks like more executions will follow in 2023.
DPIC notes: “Iranian authorities have confirmed that another 12 individuals linked to the protests have been sentenced to death, while human rights groups have identified another 12 who have been indicted on charges carrying the death penalty. The charges violate core principles of international human rights law that limit the death penalty to the ‘most serious crimes’ and prohibit it for non-lethal offenses.”
The executions of Shakari and Rahnavard, however, have not quashed the demonstrations in Iran. Instead, they have worsened the unrest in this region of the Middle East and inspired even more protests against the Iranian government. After the executions, videos of demonstrators calling for the death of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei surfaced on social media, according to the New York Times.
So what can we expect next in Iran? There may be more ethnic clashes in Iran’s future.
Iran is composed of many different ethnic groups. The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) observes that Iran has millions of people in various ethnic groups, such as Azeris, Kurds, Baluchis and Arabs. These groups all have their own unique ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds.
If calls for independence from the regime in Tehran become stronger, then the very existence of Iran could be in danger. There are various nations in the Middle East – and elsewhere – who have an interest in weakening Iran – including the U.S., the countries of the European Union, Saudi Arabia and Israel. According to Voice of America, the U.S. is encouraging other countries to support the protestors, and National Public Radio says that other nations could provide more assistance in 2023 in an attempt to topple the regime.
Turkey: The Possible Retirement of President Erdoğan
In the past year, there has been a change in the public image of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdoğan slowly but surely made attempts in 2022 to leave behind the bad-boy dictator image that he has held for the past 20 years.
According to the European Council on Foreign Relations, Erdoğan, along with the United Nations, attempted to broker a deal to allow Ukraine to export wheat by sea, a deal that Russia later rejected. CFR notes that Erdoğan also made attempts to rebuild his relationship with Israel; the German Institute for Security and International Affairs notes that he has also been working on forming better relationships with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria.
Erdoğan and his legacy within the Middle East and the rest of the world will face a big challenge in 2023. Parliamentary and presidential elections will take place in June 2023, and it will not be easy for Erdoğan to win. The Turkish economy is in a dire situation, which will make this presidential run very complex for a candidate who is used to landslide victories.
Erdoğan has hinted that he will seek retirement after the 2023 elections, according to World Is One News (WION). For someone like Erdoğan, who has called for a rebuilding of a neo-Ottoman Turkey for the last 20 years and a return to Turkey becoming a regional power, his retirement will prove that a neo-Ottoman future is still far in the future.
Israel: A Possible Clash with Hamas and Hezbollah Could Lead to More Chaos in the Middle East
The new Israeli government has some members who support a strong military response if the Palestinian Authority shoots rockets at Israel. There is growing tension in the West Bank, which could lead to a military clash with Hamas that will not be limited just to the Gaza Strip but could also include the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
Such an exchange of arms in the Middle East could tempt Hezbollah to join the fray with rocket attacks from Lebanon, making Hezbollah a prime target for a major military offensive by Israel. Iran has a reason to encourage Hamas to take this path since it might ease the civil unrest on the home front by providing a distraction.
In Israel, Netanyahu will need to prevent this violence from happening. He has much to lose, and any mistake would cost him his political legacy, not to mention his trial for corruption. It is possible that Netanyahu plans to get some help from other regional players, such as Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia: A Peace Deal with Israel Could Impact the Middle East
Ever since the Trump administration orchestrated the Abraham Accords, Saudi Arabia has been on everyone’s minds. The Times of Israel notes that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, has a covert relationship with Netanyahu. Their intelligence and military connections have been growing in view of the common adversary that both countries have in Iran.
Due to the civil unrest in Iran and the uncertain future of Iran’s nuclear deal, the crown prince has an interest in creating a more peaceful relationship with Israel. Alongside with other Sunni-controlled nations in the Middle East such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia might be willing to drive a wedge between the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Iran. Perhaps a new generation of Palestinians will assume leadership of the Palestinian Authority, and they could be instrumental in carving a new deal in the Middle East with the support of the Gulf States, Egypt, and Turkey.