A tense autumn to come in the Middle East

Across the Middle East, the Arab Uprisings of the last two years have given way to an atmosphere of a continuous uncertainty and growing tension, in some areas marked by incidents of violence, sometimes prolonged and sometimes sporadic. The outlook in the months ahead is dark. (source: Ian Lucas – New Statesman – 23/08/2012)

The darkest of all is the prolonged conflict in Syria. There are real fears that intensifying battles there may spill over into other countries in the region. Turkey watches, a deeply concerned. Together with Jordan, it is struggling with a huge influx of the refugees from Syria. Protracted violence in Syria can only destabilise the region further and, the longer the factions war in Syria, the less likely it is that a single, unified, strong Government will succeed the morally bankrupt Assad regime. Lakhdar Brahimi has impressed in his first days as UN envoy. But, as Kofi Annan discovered, the task in formulating a coherent international response to a growing crisis is immense. This is especially true within the UN Security Council. But we cannot allow the present position to continue: if we do so, the situation will worsen, not stay the same. Particular danger is conflict will spread beyond Syria’s borders. Increased activity by Iran in emphasising its support for Assad has added to tension and violent incidents, such as which happened in Turkey earlier this week, act as dangerous individual sparks in a flammable environment. In Egypt, similar tense atmosphere prevails. President Morsi’s dismissal of individual members of military establishment form part of a longer stand off between emerging democratic forces and a residually strong, but perhaps weakening, Army. The tide of the Egyptian affairs appears to moving towards more openness but broad suspicion remains about the new Government’s views on women’s rights in the context of a new constitution. The concerns have been intensified by the recent violence in Sinai between Egyptian forces and extremist elements, events which precipitated Morsi’s personnel changes. Israel had expressed concerns previously about extremist elements in the Sinai, warning of the increased instability there. It has added to Israel’s increased anxiety at developments following the Arab Uprisings. Far from making Israel more amenable to dealing with the Arab regimes with a more democratic mandate, events have caused Israel to be more concerned at trends in region posing increased threats to its security. The perception is not helped by contacts between Hamas and the new Egyptian Government and also by intemperate language about Israel which, if stability is to prevail, must be recognised and accepted as a permanent, legitimate state in the region. The next months, in the lead up to the US Presidential Election, are crucial. There has been strong concern expressed by Israel over many months over lack of progress in securing Iran’s compliance with its non-proliferation obligations. The rhetoric is intensifying once more, speculation of pre-emptive military strike against Iran is increasing. Its time for rational assessments, cool analysis. The impact of an attack at the heart of this, most sensitive and unpredictable of regions, is impossible to predict. The international community must take all steps it can to ensure that it does not take place. 


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Consultor Internacional

2 Responses to A tense autumn to come in the Middle East

  1. Israeli leaders claim an Iranian nuclear programme is an existential threat to Israel but also a menace to world security. “The threat that Iran poses is very grave for the state of Israel, for peace in the Middle East and the whole world,” warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His sabre-rattling, not different from Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s, is fraught with constructed fear. Without a doubt, the Iranian regime is repressive, has regional ambitions, and is indifferent to international law. But equally true is the absurdity that Iran’s nuclear bomb is an Armageddon in the making (…..) The most credible reason for attaining the bomb is that the Iranian regime hopes to improve its prestige at home and abroad. Nuclear capability confers on countries a badge of honour, a testimony of scientific progress and accomplishment, especially for a regime embattled by homegrown protests and international sanctions. At the same time, denying Iran the bomb could bring about the opposite effect: a weakening of the credentials and standing of the Iranian regime.

    In reality – if there is ever an Iranian threat to Israel – the threat is neither existential nor direct. What is at stake is not Israel’s security but regional hegemony. Both countries aspire to increase their influence in the region, but there can be only one hegemon. In this game of power politics, both countries seek to tighten the noose around each other, with Israel relying on the US to reinforce its military capability and political muscle, while Iran is relying on a strategy of asymmetric warfare, including supporting the Islamic militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas.

    Shrewdly, Israeli leaders have exploited Iran’s nuclear programme to strike a devastating blow against the Iranian regime. Israel hopes to squeeze the Iranian regime into a humiliating surrender of its nuclear programme or castration under the weight of international sanctions. The irony of all this is that the Iranian regime is its own worst enemy. Its policies have left Iran divided, isolated, and weak with poor governance, political and social repression, and economic mismanagement. The latest US-EU ban on importing Iranian petroleum and petroleum products and other financial restrictions have significantly crippled Iran’s access to oil revenues. How much longer the regime can hold on to power is hard to tell, but one thing is sure: the clock is ticking. Meanwhile, if the mullahs get the bomb first, it is not the end of the world.


  2. (…..) Either Israel is engaged in the most elaborate ruse since the Trojan horse or it is on the cusp of a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities (…..) Time is short. Last-ditch negotiations in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow have failed abjectly. The Iranians are contemptuously playing with the process. The strategy is delay until they get the bomb. What to do? The sagest advice comes from Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Cordesman is a hardheaded realist — severely critical of the Bush administration’s conduct of the Iraq war, skeptical of the “war on terror,” dismissive of the strategic importance of Afghanistan, and a believer that “multilateralism and soft power must still be the rule and not the exception.” He may have found his exception. “There are times when the best way to prevent war is to clearly communicate that it is possible,” he argues. Today, the threat of a U.S. attack is not taken seriously. Not by the region. Not by Iran. Not by the Israelis, who therefore increasingly feel forced to act before Israel’s more limited munitions — far less powerful and effective than those in the U.S. arsenal — can no longer penetrate Iran’s ever-hardening facilities. Cordesman therefore proposes threefold action (…..) All options are bad. Doing nothing is worse. “The status quo may not prevent some form of war,” concludes Cordesman, “and may even be making it more likely.”



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