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The New Middle East: Toward a Restrained and Realistic Canadian Strategy

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This commentary is published as part of IPD’s project and policy paper series, The Middle East in a Multipolar World.


This article investigates Canada’s strategic goals in the Middle East as the region’s geopolitical landscape undergoes significant changes in the post-October 7 era. While Canada faces no immediate military threat, its economic prosperity hinges on a stable Middle East, particularly the unimpeded flow of oil and gas through vital waterways. The article explores the evolving regional security environment, the American diminishing influence, the rise of regional powers, and the potential for a multipolar order. It subsequently analyzes potential threats to Canada’s interests in this new reality, such as disruptions to trade and energy price volatility. Finally, it proposes a “buck-passing” approach for Ottawa to strategically pass the responsibility of maintaining regional balance to other partners, allowing it to focus its resources on more direct national security threats in the Arctic, North Pacific, and North Atlantic.

Canada's Regional Interests

While Canada does not face a direct security or military threat from the Middle East, it nonetheless has important interests in this strategic region. These interests can be characterized as primary interests, which are largely economic as well as secondary interests centred around maintaining a regional balance of power, essential in protecting its primary interests.

Canada’s primary interests center on the unimpeded flow of maritime traffic in the Middle East. The region serves as a critical artery for global commerce, with a substantial portion of the world’s oil and natural gas traversing chokepoints like the Suez Canal and the Strait of Hormuz. Disruptions to these vital waterways, be they through armed conflict or political instability, could have a cascading effect on the global economy, with Canada inevitably feeling the tremors.

Delays in essential shipments heightened insurance premiums, and volatile commodity pricing represent significant economic risks. Beyond the realm of energy resources, the Middle East also serves as a vital conduit for other goods critical to Canadian industries and consumers. Ensuring their uninterrupted flow is crucial to maintaining a resilient supply chain and stable national economy.

The second pillar of Canada’s primary interests lies in fostering access to lucrative markets within the region. The economies of the Persian Gulf states and Israel have witnessed remarkable growth in recent years, presenting vast opportunities for Canadian exports, particularly in growing sectors like technologically advanced products, aerospace engineering, infrastructure development, higher education, and clean energy and healthcare solutions.

Canada’s expertise in these areas aligns strategically with the needs of these growing economies, creating mutually beneficial trading relationships across the region. Furthermore, cultivating strong economic ties with these regional players fosters long-term partnerships, increases Canadian regional influence, and potentially attracts increased foreign direct investment into Canada.

The viability of these primary interests hinges upon a stable and secure Middle East, which is where Canada's derivative interests come into play. The first derivative interest focuses on minimizing the escalation of regional conflicts.

However, the viability of these primary interests hinges upon a stable and secure Middle East, which is where Canada’s derivative interests come into play. The first derivative interest focuses on minimizing the escalation of regional conflicts. Protracted wars and civil unrest can have a devastating impact on maritime trade routes, jeopardizing the uninterrupted flow of essential goods and resources.

Disruptions caused by conflict can also lead to price spikes in commodities critical for Canadian consumers and businesses. Furthermore, regional instability creates fertile ground for extremist ideologies to flourish, potentially leading to the emergence of global terrorist threats. Consequently, Canada has a vested interest in promoting peaceful resolutions to ongoing conflicts and supporting regional diplomacy to mitigate the risks posed by escalating tensions.

The second derivative interest concerns the maintenance of a regional balance of power. The emergence of a dominant power in the Middle East, particularly one with hostile intentions towards Canada as part of the North Atlantic bloc, could pose a significant threat to the country’s economic well-being and soft power in the region and beyond.

Such a hegemonic power could disrupt trade routes at will, manipulate resource prices to its advantage, and limit access to lucrative regional markets. Furthermore, this dominant power could also potentially destabilize neighbouring regions, creating a ripple effect of insecurity with wider implications for global trade and security. Thus, Canada has a stake in a peaceful regional order where power is relatively evenly distributed, preventing any single actor from dictating its economic and political terms on others across the region.

The Evolving Regional Security Environment

The “New Middle East” is a regional security complex shaped by both enduring geopolitical realities and new, transformative regional dynamics. Understanding these factors is crucial if Ottawa is to effectively engage with the Middle East to advance its interests in the post-October 7 era.

The region’s strategic significance is undeniable. Its vast oil and gas reserves fuel the global economy, making secure access to these resources a paramount concern for major powers and consuming nations alike. This dependence creates a vested interest in regional stability, as disruption to production or transportation could have a domino effect on global energy prices.

Furthermore, the Middle East is traversed by critical shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. These vital waterways contain choke points, vulnerable passages like the Strait of Hormuz, that, if closed down by accident, piracy, regional tensions, or war, could have devastating consequences for global trade. The potential closure of these choke points could send energy prices skyrocketing and cripple international commerce.

Beyond its resource wealth, the Middle East is a region defined by a web of overlapping conflicts. One significant rivalry is the struggle for regional dominance between Saudi Arabia and the divided Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on one side, and Iran and its network of regional proxies on the other. Despite the Chinese-brokered detente between Tehran and Riyadh last year, the Iran-Saudi competition for hegemonic power remains a major source of regional instability, heavily dependent on the political climate in respective countries and Washington.

Amid positive developments in their bilateral relations in recent months, the Saudi leadership continues to view Iran’s regional role as expansionist and its nuclear program as a major security threat in the Middle East. Iran, on the other hand, perceives itself as encircled by US-backed Sunni powers led by Saudi Arabia with their growing ties with Israel as a collective effort to further isolate and contain Iran. This sectarian dimension, in addition to the broader struggle for regional hegemony, further complicates efforts to find common ground for cooperation.

Another long-standing source of regional tension is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, proving its destructive impact of great scale on the stability and security of the Middle East region amid the ongoing war in Gaza. The unresolved status of Jerusalem, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and ongoing violence in Gaza, the north of Israel and the West Bank continue to impede progress toward a stable resolution to the conflict, generating the potential for further escalation and region-wide war.

Adding to the volatile mix is the simmering hostility between Israel and Iran. Both nations possess significant military capabilities and their rivalry externs across multiple theatres from Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen to recently reaching their homeland with the Islamic Republic attacking Israel directly with over 300 drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles in response to the alleged Israel airstrike on Iranian consulate in Syria, killing senior Iranian military officials.

Moreover, the spectre of nuclear proliferation further elevates the stakes, as both countries have active nuclear programs, raising concerns about a potential regional arms race and the catastrophic consequences of a nuclear conflict, especially if Tehran decides to fully weaponize its nuclear program.

The potential for regional escalation, particularly given the involvement of major external powers with vested interests, coupled with great power competitions amongst them, is a constant concern for the international community.

These long-standing conflicts pose a constant threat to regional stability, jeopardizing energy production, disrupting trade routes, and fueling humanitarian crises. The potential for regional escalation, particularly given the involvement of major external powers with vested interests, coupled with great power competitions amongst them, is a constant concern for the international community.

It is important to note that the Middle East is not solely defined by these enduring geographic and geopolitical realities. New dynamics are emerging and reshaping the security landscape. Perhaps the most significant development is the recent rapprochement between Israel and some Arab states under the Abraham Accords. Normalization of relations between Israel and countries like the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan could pave the way for increased regional cooperation on security and economic issues.  Normalization with Saudi Arabia, though complicated by the ongoing Gaza conflict, could significantly alter regional power dynamics if pursued. The success of the Abraham Accords would have the effect of stabilizing the regional balance of power in favour of the status quo.

Another transformative development is the growing influence of China across the region. Its growing economic and strategic footprint in the Middle East, particularly through its Belt and Road Initiative investments, is a significant and unprecedented shift. Beijing is a major consumer of Middle Eastern oil and gas, and its investments in key infrastructure projects strengthen its economic ties with regional states from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to Iran and Turkey. This growing presence offers an alternative source of investment and political support for regional powers, potentially lessening their dependence on the United States.

This changing dynamic has prompted regional powers to adopt a multi-alignment strategy, forging partnerships with a wider range of global actors like China, Russia and India to diversify their options and leverage competition between major powers. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, traditionally close allies of the United States, are increasingly turning to Russia for military equipment and diplomatic support. This diversification reflects a recognition of the limitations of American power and a growing regional desire to hedge against the US amid the changing international order.

Middle East in a Multipolar World Order

The Middle East is no longer the unipolar playground it once was under American dominance. The winds of change are ushering in a multipolar order, fundamentally reshaping the region’s security landscape. This shift can be attributed to several key trends.

First, the global balance of power is undergoing a historic transformation. The unipolar moment, with the United States as the sole superpower, has passed. The rise of China as a major economic and strategic player is a significant driver of this change. China’s growing economic clout, particularly through its Belt and Road Initiative investments, offers regional states an alternative to the United States. This newfound leverage allows the region to pursue more independent agendas, lessening their reliance on American security guarantees and fostering a multipolar environment.

Second, the United States’ strategic focus is shifting eastward. The “pivot to the Indo-Pacific” reflects a growing concern about China’s rise and a recognition of the economic and strategic importance of the Asia-Pacific region. This shift in priorities inevitably leads to a relative decline in American attention and resources devoted to the Middle East. The recent withdrawal from Afghanistan exemplifies this trend, signalling a potential retrenchment from large-scale military interventions in the region.

Regionalization is partly fueled by the erosion of US dominance, as the power vacuum created by a less engaged America creates space for regional actors to play a more prominent role.

Third, the regionalization of geopolitics is another key change factor. Regional powers like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are increasingly assertive, flexing their economic and military muscles to project influence and secure their interests. This regionalization is partly fueled by the erosion of US dominance, as the power vacuum created by a less engaged America creates space for regional actors to play a more prominent role. These powers are forging partnerships and pursuing independent security strategies, often at odds with each other, further complicating the regional security landscape.

The combined effect of these trends is expediting the transition from an American-led unipolar order to a multipolar one in the Middle East, characterized by a more complex interplay of power dynamics at both regional and international levels. Navigating this new environment will require a delicate balancing act, with regional powers fostering cooperation while managing their historical rivalries, and external actors adapting their strategies to this evolving multipolar world.

Threats to Canadian Interests in the New Middle East

The evolving security environment presents several potential threats to Canadian interests. Escalating regional conflicts could disrupt crucial maritime trade routes, jeopardizing the flow of goods and resources vital to the Canadian economy. We already witnessed a worrying trend with the Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group backed by Iran, launching attacks on oil tankers and merchant vessels traversing the Red Sea. Such disruptions not only cause economic damage but also increase global energy prices, impacting Canadian consumers at the gas pump nationwide.

While Canada boasts significant oil and gas reserves of its own, the rise of a hostile regional hegemon in the Middle East, particularly Iran, presents a more nuanced threat than simply disrupting Canadian access to that specific source. The real danger lies in the potential for Iran to destabilize the global oil and gas market in ways that could cripple the entire international economic system.

Iran’s assertive actions, including its support for proxy militias and its pursuit of nuclear capabilities, raise serious concerns about its long-term ambitions with wider implications for international security. A more powerful and emboldened Tehran could disrupt established trade routes for oil and gas flowing from the Middle East, a region that still supplies a significant portion of the world’s energy needs.

This wouldn’t necessarily mean Canada itself would face a shortage, but the global market would experience a ripple effect. Prices would likely surge as supply tightens, impacting not just  Canada’s energy costs, but also those of its trading partners and allies. Additionally, established trade routes and infrastructure could be rendered unreliable or inoperable, forcing a global scramble for alternative suppliers. This shift could come at a significant premium, as new infrastructure would need to be developed to access alternative sources, potentially from regions with less stable political environments or less developed extraction technologies.

The overall impact would be a more volatile and expensive global energy market, hindering economic growth and potentially triggering inflationary pressures across the globe. This economic instability could have a cascading effect, impacting everything from international trade to social welfare programs. In essence, Canada’s concern is not solely about securing its own access to oil, but about the potential for a hostile actor to disrupt the delicate balance of the global energy market, with the resulting economic turmoil impacting Canada and the international community as a whole.

Advancing Canada's Interests in the New Middle East: A Restrained Approach

Recognizing the realities of the new multipolar Middle East, Canada’s 21st-century approach should prioritize realist security concerns through four key considerations. The first is a clear-eyed assessment of the region’s shifting power dynamics. This necessitates acknowledging the decline of American dominance, the rise of regional powers like Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, and the evolving balance of power in the region.

Beyond that, Canadian foreign policy should focus on threats with a direct impact on Canadian national security. While humanitarian concerns are not disregarded, the primary focus should be on issues that directly affect Canadian consumers and national interests. This includes potential disruptions to global energy markets, a critical source fueled by the Middle East. Ensuring regional stability is paramount to preventing such disruptions that could cause price spikes and economic harm. Additionally, Canada should prioritize supporting international efforts to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction in the region, and collaborate with allies on intelligence sharing and disrupting global terrorist networks.

Ottawa must recognize that there is little scope for Canada either to materially affect the balance of power in the Middle East or to play the role of a “middle power.”

Additionally, Ottawa must recognize that there is little scope for Canada either to materially affect the balance of power in the Middle East or to play the role of a “middle power.” The latter is a particularly pressing necessity as many Canadians, in and out of government, have yet to come to terms with the fact that regionalization and other factors have severely circumscribed the scope for traditional middle powers like Canada to play the role of “helpful fixer” in regions like the Middle East.

Finally, given its finite resources, Ottawa must recognize that any investment in Middle Eastern security will have to come at the expense of investments in other national security spaces. Any involvement in the Middle East should be measured and focused on achieving specific objectives within a clear timeframe. Thus, policymakers must carefully consider opportunity costs, ensuring that resources committed to the Middle East don’t come at the expense of core security interests closer to home, especially in the North American continent and the Arctic.

Buck-Passing: A Restraint Approach for a New Middle East

The Middle East complex and volatile geopolitical landscape demands a pragmatic approach for Canada. While some may advocate for a more active role, a compelling case can be made for a strategy of “buck-passing” – strategically shifting the responsibility for maintaining the balance of power to other actors including both regional and international allies. This approach, carefully defined, does not imply isolationism or complete disengagement. Rather, it sheds the pretense of regional leadership and avoids the burdens of acting as an indispensable middle power.

The realities of the region necessitate restraint for Canada. The erosion of American dominance has ushered in a multipolar Middle East, further complicating an already-complex web of rivalries. Furthermore, Canada’s resources, both military and diplomatic, are finite. Prioritizing commitments in its own hemisphere, particularly the Arctic, aligns with the guidelines outlined earlier. The Arctic is a region where Canada has a vital security stake and can make a significant difference, unlike the power struggles of the Middle East.

Buck-passing, when viewed through this lens, becomes a rational strategy. The recent emergence of a balancing dynamic, exemplified by the Abraham Accords and increased Saudi-Israeli cooperation, offers a potential long-term stability that mitigates threats to Canadian interests. While this dynamic remains fragile, it suggests that major regional players are forging a stable regional security complex – one that will continue to be defined in part by conflict and competition, but one also in which the threats of escalation to all-out war or the emergence of a hostile hegemon are minimized. This being the case, Canada’s limited resources are better spent stabilizing its own regional security complex rather than attempting to shape one to which it can never belong and which in any case does not require its involvement.

Canada's limited resources are better spent stabilizing its own regional security complex rather than attempting to shape one to which it can never belong and which in any case does not require its involvement.

A “buck-passing” strategy, where Canada accepts that only regional great powers and the United States can maintain the Middle East’s balance of power, offers significant advantages that align well with a realist approach focused on national security and resource efficiency.

First, this strategy promises to deliver substantial benefits. Even the most robust Canadian engagement in the Middle East conceivable would have only a marginal impact on the regional security complex. Doing little or nothing, on the other hand, and leaving the fate of Canada’s only real interests in the region to local powers and the United States is far more likely to result in the kind of balance of power that in itself will secure and advance those interests.

Second, this approach allows Canada to redeploy its limited resources to the Arctic, a region where it can truly take a leadership role. The Arctic holds immense strategic significance for Canada, impacting its sovereignty, resource security, and environmental well-being. By prioritizing the Arctic,  Canada can invest in critical infrastructure, bolster its military presence for effective sovereignty patrols, and address pressing environmental concerns. This proactive approach strengthens not only Canada’s national security but also contributes to the broader security of North America and its NATO allies, directly aligning with realist security principles.

Finally, adopting a buck-passing strategy fosters a more credible and achievable foreign policy for Canada on the world stage. A clear-eyed assessment of  Canada’s limitations, both military and diplomatic, prevents the overextension of resources in a complex and volatile region like the Middle East. By acknowledging the limitations of its power and influence, Canada can avoid the pitfalls of overreach, fostering a more credible and achievable foreign policy focused on areas where it can make tangible and strategic contributions in line with national interests. This allows  Ottawa to leverage its diplomatic strengths in targeted ways, investing its limited resources in other regions – the Arctic, North Pacific, and North Atlantic – in ways that can have a consequential impact on Canadian national security.


In this new multipolar Middle East, Canada’s strategy should prioritize national security concerns while adopting a more restrained approach. “Buck-passing”–strategically shifting the responsibility for maintaining the balance of power – is not isolationism It is a pragmatic recognition of the realities of the region, and allows Canada to focus its resources on areas where it can make a truly significant contribution to Canadian, North American and Western security. By strategically engaging the regional security complex within a framework of restraint, Canada can navigate the new Middle East while ensuring its own security and prosperity at home and abroad.

Andrew Latham
Andrew Latham
Dr. Andrew Latham is a Senior Washington Fellow at the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy and a Professor at Macalester College.
Panel 4: Pathways to Manage Non-Proliferation in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:45 PM ET)

The Western powers have failed to effectively manage the increasing threat of proliferation in the Middle East. While the international community is concerned with Iran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabia has moved forward with developing its own nuclear program, and independent studies show that Israel has longed possessed dozens of nuclear warheads. The former is a member of the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), while the latter has refused to sign the international agreement. 

On Middle East policy, the Biden campaign had staunchly criticized the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal and it has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier since assuming office in January 2021. However, serious obstacles remain for responsible actors in expanding non-proliferation efforts toward a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. 

This panel will discuss how Western powers and multilateral institutions, such as the IAEA, can play a more effective role in managing non-proliferation efforts in the Middle East.  


Peggy Mason: Canada’s former Ambassador to the UN for Disarmament

Mark Fitzpatrick: Associate Fellow & Former Executive Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

Ali Vaez: Iran Project Director, International Crisis Group

Negar Mortazavi: Journalist and Political Analyst, Host of Iran Podcast

David Albright: Founder and President of the Institute for Science and International Security


Closing (5:45 PM – 6:00 PM ET)

Panel 3: Trade and Business Diplomacy in the Middle East (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

What is the current economic landscape in the Middle East? While global foreign direct investment is expected to fall drastically in the post-COVID era, the World Bank reported a 5% contraction in the economic output of the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries in 2020 due to the pandemic. While oil prices are expected to rebound with normalization in demand, political instability, regional and geopolitical tensions, domestic corruption, and a volatile regulatory and legal environment all threaten economic recovery in the Middle East. What is the prospect for economic growth and development in the region post-pandemic, and how could MENA nations promote sustainable growth and regional trade moving forward?

At the same time, Middle Eastern diaspora communities have become financially successful and can help promote trade between North America and the region. In this respect, the diaspora can become vital intermediaries for advancing U.S. and Canada’s business interests abroad. Promoting business diplomacy can both benefit the MENA region and be an effective and positive way to advance engagement and achieve foreign policy goals of the North Atlantic.

This panel will investigate the trade and investment opportunities in the Middle East, discuss how facilitating economic engagement with the region can benefit Canadian and American national interests, and explore relevant policy prescriptions.


Hon. Sergio Marchi: Canada’s Former Minister of International Trade

Scott Jolliffe: Chairperson, Canada Arab Business Council

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj: Founder and Publisher of Bourse & Bazaar

Nizar Ghanem: Director of Research and Co-founder at Triangle

Nicki Siamaki: Researcher at Control Risks

Panel 2: Arms Race and Terrorism in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

The Middle East continues to grapple with violence and instability, particularly in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Fueled by government incompetence and foreign interventions, terrorist insurgencies have imposed severe humanitarian and economic costs on the region. Meanwhile, regional actors have engaged in an unprecedented pursuit of arms accumulation. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have imported billions of both Western and Russian-made weapons and funded militant groups across the region, intending to contain their regional adversaries, particularly Iran. Tehran has also provided sophisticated weaponry to various militia groups across the region to strengthen its geopolitical position against Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Israel. 

On the other hand, with international terrorist networks and intense regional rivalry in the Middle East, it is impractical to discuss peace and security without addressing terrorism and the arms race in the region. This panel will primarily discuss the implications of the ongoing arms race in the region and the role of Western powers and multilateral organizations in facilitating trust-building security arrangements among regional stakeholders to limit the proliferation of arms across the Middle East.



Luciano Zaccara: Assistant Professor, Qatar University

Dania Thafer: Executive Director, Gulf International Forum

Kayhan Barzegar: Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of Azad University

Barbara Slavin: Director of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council

Sanam Shantyaei: Senior Journalist at France24 & host of Middle East Matters

Panel 1: Future of Diplomacy and Engagement in the Middle East (10:30 AM-11:45 AM ET)

The emerging regional order in West Asia will have wide-ranging implications for global security. The Biden administration has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier, an initiative staunchly opposed by Israel, while also taking a harder line on Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. Meanwhile, key regional actors, including Qatar, Iraq, and Oman, have engaged in backchannel efforts to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. From a broader geopolitical perspective, with the need to secure its energy imports, China is also expected to increase its footprint in the region and influence the mentioned challenges. 

In this evolving landscape, Western powers will be compelled to redefine their strategic priorities and adjust their policies with the new realities in the region. In this panel, we will discuss how the West, including the United States and its allies, can utilize multilateral diplomacy with its adversaries to prevent military escalation in the region. Most importantly, the panel will discuss if a multilateral security dialogue in the Persian Gulf region, proposed by some regional actors, can help reduce tensions among regional foes and produce sustainable peace and development for the region. 


Abdullah Baabood: Academic Researcher and Former Director of the Centre for Gulf Studies, Qatar University

Trita Parsi: Executive Vice-President, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Ebtesam Al-Ketbi: President, Emirates Policy Centre​

Jon Allen: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Israel

Elizabeth Hagedorn: Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor

Panel 4: Humanitarian Diplomacy: An Underused Foreign Policy Tool in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:30 PM ET)

Military interventions, political and economic instabilities, and civil unrest in the Middle East have led to a global refugee crisis with an increasing wave of refugees and asylum seekers to Europe and Canada. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has, in myriad ways, exacerbated and contributed to the ongoing security threats and destabilization of the region.

While these challenges pose serious risks to Canadian security, Ottawa will also have the opportunity to limit such risks and prevent a spillover effect vis-à-vis effective humanitarian initiatives in the region. In this panel, we will primarily investigate Canada’s Middle East Strategy’s degree of success in providing humanitarian aid to the region. Secondly, the panel will discuss what programs and initiatives Canada can introduce to further build on the renewed strategy. and more specifically, how Canada can utilize its policy instruments to more effectively deal with the increasing influx of refugees from the Middle East. 



Erica Di Ruggiero: Director of Centre for Global Health, University of Toronto

Reyhana Patel: Head of Communications & Government Relations, Islamic Relief Canada

Amir Barmaki: Former Head of UN OCHA in Iran

Catherine Gribbin: Senior Legal Advisor for International and Humanitarian Law, Canadian Red Cross

Panel 3: A Review of Canada’s Middle East Engagement and Defense Strategy (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

In 2016, Canada launched an ambitious five-year “Middle East Engagement Strategy” (2016-2021), committing to investing CA$3.5 billion over five years to help establish the necessary conditions for security and stability, alleviate human suffering and enable stabilization programs in the region. In the latest development, during the meeting of the Global Coalition against ISIS, Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau announced more than $43.6 million in Peace and Stabilization Operations Program funding for 11 projects in Syria and Iraq.

With Canada’s Middle East Engagement Strategy expiring this year, it is time to examine and evaluate this massive investment in the Middle East region in the past five years. More importantly, the panel will discuss a principled and strategic roadmap for the future of Canada’s short-term and long-term engagement in the Middle East.


Ferry de Kerckhove: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Egypt

Dennis Horak: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Chris Kilford: Former Canadian Defence Attaché in Turkey, member of the national board of the Canadian International Council (CIC)

David Dewitt: University Professor Emeritus, York University

Panel 2: The Great Power Competition in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

While the United States continues to pull back from certain regional conflicts, reflected by the Biden administration’s decision to halt American backing for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and the expected withdrawal from Afghanistan, US troops continue to be stationed across the region. Meanwhile, Russia and China have significantly maintained and even expanded their regional activities. On one hand, the Kremlin has maintained its military presence in Syria, and on the other hand, China has signed an unprecedented 25-year strategic agreement with Iran.

As the global power structure continues to shift, it is essential to analyze the future of the US regional presence under the Biden administration, explore the emerging global rivalry with Russia and China, and at last, investigate the implications of such competition for peace and security in the Middle East.


Dmitri Trenin: Director of Carnegie Moscow Center

Joost R. Hiltermann: Director of MENA Programme, International Crisis Group

Roxane Farmanfarmaian: Affiliated Lecturer in International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa, University of Cambridge

Andrew A. Michta: Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at Marshall Center

Kelley Vlahos: Senior Advisor, Quincy Institute

Panel 1: A New Middle East Security Architecture in the Making (10:30 AM -11:45 AM ET)

The security architecture of the Middle East has undergone rapid transformations in an exceptionally short period. Notable developments include the United States gradual withdrawal from the region, rapprochement between Israel and some GCC states through the Abraham Accords and the rise of Chinese and Russian regional engagement.

With these new trends in the Middle East, it is timely to investigate the security implications of the Biden administration’s Middle East policy. In this respect, we will discuss the Biden team’s new approach vis-à-vis Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The panel will also discuss the role of other major powers, including China and Russia in shaping this new security environment in the region, and how the Biden administration will respond to these powers’ increasing regional presence.



Sanam Vakil: Deputy Director of MENA Programme at Chatham House

Denise Natali: Acting Director, Institute for National Strategic Studies & Director of the Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University

Hassan Ahmadian: Professor of the Middle East and North Africa Studies, University of Tehran

Abdulaziz Sagar: Chairman, Gulf Research Center

Andrew Parasiliti: President, Al-Monitor