The Changing Middle East

July 13, 2012

Developments in the Middle East deteriorate on a daily basis and are currently on a knife’s edge. It seems as if the United States abandoned its strategic role in the Middle East or at least took a wait and see position. This will be interpreted by Arab nations as weakness and will certainly embolden the extremists. The current situation in the Middle East cries out for strong leadership.

The Arab Spring turned out to be a terrible winter. Iran and Turkey seek to position themselves as regional powers. Iran started a 10 day navy exercise on Saturday 24 December 2011 aimed at defending or even closing the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway for oil tankers transporting oil to the rest of the world. The main reason for the exercise is to signal Iran’s readiness in case of an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites by the West. Turkey sent war ships to the joint Israeli/Cyprus gas fields to discourage Israel and Cyprus to continue with exploration, a clear indication of Turkey’s ambition to be the leader of the Arab world.

The Israeli/Palestinian peace initiative also took a turn for the worse and the unification of Fatah and Hamas will almost certainly lead to the cancellation of any peace negotiations with Israel as long as Hamas denounce Israel’s existence. The Islamist Hamas demand the scrapping of the two state solution, the Oslo Accord and triumphantly announced that “Anyone who thinks Hamas has changed its positions is living in an illusion”. Hamas is clearly emboldened by the rise of the Islamists in the region and chose the path of confrontation instead of negotiations. The aggressive position of Hamas effectively announced the death of the current peace process.

Iran’s strategic alliance with Syria and Hizbullah poses a real threat on Israel’s northern border. It is estimated that Hizbullah is in possession of 60, 000 rockets and moved many of them from Syria to Lebanon amidst the Syrian revolt. The situation in Egypt changed drastically for the negative since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Hamas aligned themselves with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and is weighing the option of moving its Politburo from Damascus to Cairo. The political stability of Jordan is also challenged by radical Islamist groups with the potential of creating a similar scenario as in Egypt threatening the Peace treaty with Israel.

We see a multi-front ring of instability developing, reminiscent of the power struggle between Iran and the West. On the surface it looks if Iran is winning the strategic battle with possible dire consequences for the entire region. This will unite the different Islamist groups which will effectively turn the Arab Spring into a very cold Arab Winter.

The US is in a presidential election year with a focus mostly on internal matters. Iran and its proxies are aware of this and use the situation together with the vacuum already created by US foreign policy on the Middle East to strengthen their grip on the region. It seems that Israel grasp the current situation better than their Western counterparts and prepares them accordingly. However, the wisdom of Solomon is needed to manoeuvre through the stormy currents.