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October 28, 2021

By Scott Abramson

*Scroll down to watch recording.*

Itai Sened, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Tel Aviv University, chaired and moderated the second of three panel discussions on Afghanistan and the MENA region, in which the focus was on the impact of the Taliban’s return to power on the Middle East’s three non-Arab countries: Iran, Israel, and Turkey. Opening the proceedings, Iran expert Abbas Milani of Stanford University commented that the Islamic Republic has reaped a “propaganda bonanza” from Washington’s retreat from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s resurgence and the Iranian regime has seized on the Afghan “fiasco,” claiming that “America, which 'cannot be trusted,' is also being thrown out of the Middle East." Yet, when one looks beyond propaganda, examining the situation substantively, not superficially, it becomes apparent, notes Milani, that the Taliban’s triumph and the Americans’ humiliation amount to little more than a “temporary strategic victory” for Iran. No matter the situation in Afghanistan, Iran’s regional influence is still in decline, undermined by an economy in crisis and proxies in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, in distress.

Turning to Israel, Levant scholar Eyal Zisser, Vice Rector of Tel Aviv University, looked at the Taliban’s victory through the lens of American-Israeli relations. Zisser observed that since one of the sinews of Israeli statecraft is Jerusalem’s alliance with Washington, any blow to American power and prestige is, by extension, a blow to Israeli power and prestige too. Even so, he made clear that while the Taliban’s triumph may, as a one-off event, be an unwelcome development for the United States and, derivatively, for Israel, its ill effects on the Jewish state are minor. Much more worrisome from Israel’s point of view is the trend it reflects of American disengagement from the Middle East and indifference to regional crises. This American pullback from the Middle East is dramatized, not just by the retreat from Afghanistan, but also by a more recent development in the region: the United States’ non-response to an Iranian attack on its al-Tanf base in southeastern Syria.

Turkey, for its part, has likewise viewed the Taliban’s triumph in light of its relations with Washington. Soner Cagaptay, a historian of modern Turkey at The Washington Institute, expects that Ankara will try to leverage its cordial relations with the Taliban into an improved relationship with Washington. Amid the downward slide of the Turkish economy and, with it, his own popularity, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hopes to mend ties with the United States and thereby restore international confidence in Turkey and increase foreign investment. Cagaptay noted that the Taliban’s return to power deals Turkey an important card it can play to recover the goodwill of the United States. Thanks to Ankara’s cordial relations with the Taliban, its soft power in Afghanistan (where there live large numbers of Turkic minorities like the Uzbeks and Turkmens), and its alliance with Qatar (both Turkey’s and Afghanistan’s sole ally in the Middle East), Erdoğan is well positioned to present Turkey to Washington as an intermediary or, failing that, as a positive actor in Afghanistan that could soften the Taliban’s hard line or run the Kabul airport.

Watch the full discussion here: