The countries in the Middle East have never communicated well during times of tension. One reason is that politics in the region is very personal. That is, there is difficulty distinguishing between engagement with a government and engagement with the person who serves as head of state, king, minister or ambassador. For instance, the priorities that Saudi Arabia is pursuing in Syria are viewed as the personal wishes of the king and a reflection of him rather than the state.
Thus, Iran’s opposition to these priorities is viewed as a quarrel with the office of the Saudi king, which has extended to two kings in the past five years. Engagement in such an environment is sometimes even more difficult than going to war, which is a key reason why Saudi Arabia and Iran remain diametrically opposed over the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, diminishing the prospects for serious dialogue.
The prevalence of confrontation over engagement has had devastating effects for the countries in the region by producing two major consequences: the strengthening of out-of-control extremism and internationalization of the management of regional affairs. With groups like the Islamic State (IS) threatening everyone in the region, the major powers — the United States, European Union, Russia and others — bearing witness to the regional confrontations and the lack of efficient solutions, seek to play a more active role in managing the crises.
The outcome is that regional countries, regardless of their intentions or desires, effectively relinquish an important share of their role to international players. Although this dynamic is to the detriment of the regional actors, at its heart, it also provides some hope that the regional actors will eventually get to the negotiating table.