quarta-feira, 13 de abril de 2011

Mideast on Target

Israel's Deceptive Calm

by Yisrael Ne'eman

There is a general feeling in Israel that Middle Eastern instability will bypass the Jewish State. But while Israel is not a state repressing basic freedoms, has a democratic elective system and has no expectation of an uprising by the Facebook and Twitter generation short term future events on its doorstep may very well lead to conflict. Here we need to consider events in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and among the Palestinians.

Although less friendly than before, it seems unlikely that Egypt will become directly involved in conflict with Israel, even if Hamas is now welcomed in Cairo. It is not clear whether the Egyptians will allow for a much greater amount of rockets, weapons and ammunition to enter the Gaza Strip. Previously attempts at halting contraband were partially successful. In the meantime medium range missiles capable of hitting the Tel Aviv outskirts are reportedly in the Hamas arsenals.

On the other hand instability in Syria, despite the media blackout, is increasing in scope. Should Assad and his Alawite minority begin to lose their grip on power, logic determines a two step approach for regime survival - a violent internal crackdown possibly of the 1982 Hama variety (10,000s killed) and the search for an outside enemy in an effort to reunite a diverse Syrian state comprising many minorities and a majority Sunni population polarized between religious Muslim Brotherhood and secular Ba'ath supporters. Using state controlled media, Damascus only needs the correct timing to identify the external threat – Israel.

Lebanon is sitting on a powder keg of ethnic/religious tensions between Sunnis, Shiites, Druze, Maronites and the Greek Orthodox. The Shiite Hezbollah militia is far more powerful than the Lebanese Army which itself has undergone a certain Shia-fication. One only need recall the Shiite army officer whose troops opened fire on Israel and killed a reserve colonel last summer. Tensions will come to a head when the UN finally issues its report exposing the culprits responsible for the assassination of former Sunni PM Saad Hariri's father Rafik Hariri in 2005 who himself was a leading political and economic figure having also served as PM. It is widely believed Hezbollah and quite possibly Syria will be blamed for the assassination. Shiite Iran, a close ally of both, will continence no such accusations preferring to deflect Lebanese and world attention to an outside enemy, namely Israel. Here too, timing will be significant, although unlike the Syrian front, Hezbollah has already promised that if it is "falsely accused" of the assassination they blame on Israel, the organization/militia will reserve the right of response.

Next there is Jordan where there is an almost total voluntary Western news blackout, but events are reported in Israel. King Abdullah II is under increasing pressure not only from Palestinian elements which comprise some two-thirds of the monarchy's population, but increasingly radical elements of the Muslim Brotherhood are making inroads, not only among Palestinians but even in certain Bedouin tribes considered loyal to the king himself. Calls for canceling the peace accords of 1994 coupled with demands for Israel's destruction are being heard with increasing frequency. Abdullah's grip on power may be slipping.

And then there are the Palestinians – split between Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Fatah Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. The latest round of rocket attacks into the northwestern Negev originating from Gaza ended a few days ago. Little damage was done as Israel's "Iron Dome" defensive anti-missile system proved effective. However there are only two operational batteries and the earliest date for deploying any other is at least half a year away. This will not deter Hamas - owners of rockets capable of hitting the southern suburbs of Tel Aviv. Israel needs to add several more Iron Dome systems in the south and begin deploying on the Lebanese border across from Hezbollah in the north where there are none. All this will take several years.

Hamas is getting poised for the next round with Israel despite their recent calls for calm. Anarchy is seeping into Gaza life, the more radical Islamic Jihad is restless and it appears al-Qaeda has operatives stirring up troubles. Only a battle with the "Zionist entity" the ultimate outside enemy, can help unify the population, if only temporarily. The Fatah/PA controlled West Bank on the face of it is making progress towards independence. Such a declaration with overwhelming UN support can be expected in September. PA PM Salam Fayyad has convinced the latest UN mission (this week), World Bank and International Monetary Fund of Palestinian abilities to administer their own independent state. Not only has much civil and economic progress been made but the West Bank is very calm recently, not only due to the efforts of the Palestinian security forces but also with Israel's help.

The above constellation of events is very unsettling. Several flash points are discernable. A Syrian meltdown/explosion, a UN report accusing Hezbollah/Syria and possibly Iran in the Hariri assassination, a Hamas need for unity or a Jordanian civil war where Palestinian/Muslim Brotherhood opposition elements overthrow the regime are all possible sparks for conflict with Israel, most likely on more than one front. Even an internal threat to the Iranian regime (for sure a long shot) could be the trigger for hostilities against the Jewish State.

Better yet, the moment a Palestinian State is declared and/or recognized, the legality of Israel's presence in the West Bank becomes more precarious and the "settlement" issue more explosive. Any armed force acting in the name of "liberation" such as the Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas or a state entity such as Iran, Syria or anyone else will see itself as automatically receiving international support in its confrontation with Israel. What better cover for a war against Israel could possibly exist, especially when these regimes are facing overwhelming opposition, fractionalization and unremitting cross religious/ethnic violence threatening to topple their regimes at home?

By then whatever democracy revolution emerged on the Arab world scene in the winter of 2011 may be long forgotten.

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