Thursday, January 02, 2014

2014 in the Middle East

We are told that 2014 will be a decisive year in the Middle East. There are numerous activities in progress that might come to a conclusion in the coming year.

1. The Iranian nuclear program: The preliminary agreement between the western powers (P5+1) and Iran is in process of being implemented. It has 6 months to run and then a final overall agreement will be negotiated. It is uncertain whether or not Pres. Rouhani will be able to carry through such an agreement, even if he wanted to, against the forces of extremism in Iran. There are continuous statements by Iranian leaders that Iran will never give up high enrichment of uranium, that they don't need for peaceful applications only for a weapon. So the crucial question is, if the final agrement is not reached, will Israel attack Iran's nuclear facilities before they go critical? Either significant outcome is possible in 2014.
2. The Palestinian-Israel conflict: The peace negotiations are crawling along, at the moment they are stalled, but they are supposed to continue for the full period of 9 months ending in April. So far the positions of the two sides are so far apart that no agreement is possible, the Palestinians are not prepared to compromise, and will not recognize Israel as the Jewish state and want Israel to stop construction on the West Bank. But, Israel says that the release of 200 terrorists prisoners was a concession to the Palestinians and it is not required to unilaterally stop construction. Secty of State Kerry is making this a personal issue, travelling to the region every few weeks, now for the tenth time. If the negotiations fails, as is likely, it will be a defeat for him and for Pres. Obama. The only other alternative is if he uses strong-arm tactics to force Israel to make more concessions, but that isn't going to happen unless the Palestinians compromise too. So another President will find this conflict intractable (you'd think they would learn from experience).
3. The civil war in Syria: Although the year starts with a delay in the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, the process is underway and will likely be successfully completed early in 2014. However, the civil war will continue unabated, since both sides are intransigent, Pres. Assad's forces are on the attack, supported by Hizbollah and Iran, but the insurgents hold enough ground that they cannot easily be defeated. In 2014 there is likely to be an increase in clashes between the moderate forces of the Free Syrian Army and the Islamist rebels. But, even if there is a Geneva peace conference, don't expect any major change in Syria in the coming year. So far 130,000 have been killed, and that number will keep rising.
4. The political chaos in Egypt: Gen al-Sisi is now the absolute ruler of Egypt, replacing Hosni Mubarak as military dictator. The brief spell of pseudo-democracy and the reign of the Muslim Brotherhood is over and the MB has now been declared a terrorist organization by the regime and its leaders arrested. In 2014, al-Sisi will consolidate his power and ruthlessly put down any further demonstrations in favor of his prisoner, former Pres. Morsi. MIlitary control in Egypt is favorable to Israel and the West, especially as al-Sisi is antagonistic to Hamas, although Pres. Obama has managed to lose US influence in Egypt, replaced by Pres. Putin's Russia.
5. The political situation in Turkey: The political situation in Turkey will continue to worsen as the people assert their opposition to the Islamization of Turkey by PM Erdogan. The current exposure of corruption only exacerbates the natural opposition by secular elements, including the army, to the government. As the situation deteriorates, the government will be forced to step down and declare elections and hopefully a new secular administration will be voted in, but that is probably wishful thinking.

Further afield there are the similar political crises continuing in Thailand and Ukraine. Although we see the specific tactical activities of various political groups, we sometimes fail to perceive the underlying historical processes that are at work. 2014 will be a year of decision in the Middle East, again!


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