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A New Middle East Crisis in the Making

By Claude Salhani | Tue, 15 January 2013 23:12 | 4

A demographic time bomb is clicking away in the Middle East with the creation of a new refugee problem as the continuing civil war in Syria is seeing the numbers of Syrians fleeing their country rise to a staggering 600,000.  For a country with a population of only 22 million those are frightening numbers, indeed.

To put things in perspective this means that one out of every 25 Syrian has become a refugee. Compared to the population of the United States it would mean that more than 12 million Americans would have been affected. To the outsider numbers are sanitized and don’t portray the human sufferings.  It is hard to relate to numbers be it 600 or 600,000. Those are just cold statistics. Unless we know someone who is among those 600,000, then of course the issue becomes a personal one. As Josef Stalin, the former Soviet dictator used to say, a single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.

But the problem here is not purely one of numbers alone or of statistics, but one of planting future seeds of discord in an already troubled area. As history – and here I refer to recent history -- has taught us time and again it is not the quantity of people who can create problems, start revolutionary movements,  (sometimes called terrorist groups) plant explosive devises and create political havoc, but rather the quality involved. It takes only a few dedicated individuals to create mayhem if they are dedicated enough. And nothing serves as a perfect breeding ground for future “revolutionary movements” than these camps of sorrow.

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The Palestinian Revolution has shown us just that. It began with “temporary” makeshift camps in Jordan, the Gaza Strip, Syria and Lebanon after two waves of Palestinian Arabs fled their homes in the wake of two wars: 1948 and 1967. Several hundreds of thousands of Palestinians left their homes for exile, either voluntarily or at times forcefully. Today, 65, years later, they are still in those very “temporary refugee camps.”

The wave of violent terror attacks, airline hijackings, political assassinations, indiscriminate bombings at places of social gatherings such as clubs, bars, cafés, and restaurants that came in the mid-1960s and 1970s was partially as a result of the international community continued failure to acknowledge and act upon the problem of Palestine.

And granted, the root cause behind the creation of the two refugee problems, the Palestinian and the Syrian, are vastly different and cannot honestly be compared. The Palestinians lost their land as the result of the creation of a new entity in the region, one which took their lands and denied them the right to return thus extending the refugee problem. The Syrians on the other hand should, in principle at least be able to return to their homes, assuming they will still have one once the fighting subsides and the politicians pick up where the fighters leave off.

For many however, there may be no going back to Syria once the war is over for a number of reasons; they may not have a home to return to; depending on the outcome of the war they may not be able to return to their homes for political reasons, and sadly, many may indeed end up staying in refugee camps. Now look at a map of the Middle East and see where a segment of those refugees are positioned; the majority are in camps within reach of the Syrian borders.

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In Turkey, for example, many refugees are camped within a few miles of the Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline, once upon a time bringing oil from Iraqi-Kurdistan to the Mediterranean Sea. The pipeline, in fact consisting of two pipes measuring 46 and 404 inches in diameters and capable of bringing up to 500,000 barrels p/d, (though some say the pipes can carry only 300,000 barrels p/d.

This pipeline has been a target of sabotage since 2003 and has become inoperable since 2009. Eventually the pipeline will be repaired and peace will return to Iraq, but that will be just in time for the next wave of discontent in the Middle East to start taking root in the aftermath of the Syrian conflict and any potential remaining unresolved population question.  And if not this pipeline there are always other potential targets for a discontented population who feel they have nothing left to lose.

Is the world ready for another round of major discontent? If not, it is time to act.

By. Claude Salhani

Claude Salhani, a specialist in conflict resolution, is an independent journalist, political analyst and author of several books on the region. His latest book, 'Islam Without a Veil,' is published by Potomac Books. He tweets @claudesalhani.

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  • Brenda Hogarth on January 16 2013 said:
    I am only an armchair historian, with no prestigious degrees or background, but I think there may be one skewed piece of information in your article. I believe that the truth of the matter is that the rag-tag, half starved group of Jews recently released from concentration camps in the mid 1940s, having lost all of their homes and families most assuredly did not drive their Arab cousins out of Israel. In fact, the Arab peoples who were living in Israel were asked to remain. They were promised their homes and a chance to help make the desert bloom. The Arab peoples were frightend, however, by the Arab governments surrounding Israel, telling them that the Jews lied and were planning to exterminate all of them. When they fled, expecting to be welcomed into the surrounding Arab contries, they were denied entrance. So it was the Arab governments who messed over their own people, not the Jews. The refugees were forced by these Arab governments into squalid refugee camps, full of mud, disease, and filth. These so-called "Palestianians" have remained pawns ever since. And the middle eastern countries know how to use the press and the media to their own advantage and to further their own goals, which of course is to see that every trace of Jewish culture, history, and people is completely destroyed. And by the way, the title "Palestine" has nothing to do with Jews or Arabs. It is a Roman derivation of the title "Philistine," a group of non-semitic people who died out during the Old Testament period. Grievous to see history be so completely rewritten and people to fall for it
  • jess barber on January 17 2013 said:
    Well said Brenda,unfortunatly people prefer rewritten history because they don't like the truth
  • Elainee P on January 17 2013 said:
    I hope the author of this Article will read these comments. I would like to educate him on something. The land that you are referring to, that was taken from the Palestians belonged to Israel before Jordan took it from them.During the 1967 war Israel took back what belonged to them and was promised to them in GOD's Holy Book. You news people need to learn what the Truth really is and quit spreading your lies.
  • 4thamen on January 17 2013 said:
    From one perspective, the Palestinians did lose their land after 1948. My gripe is that China should give up
    Tibet, all non-Native Americans should leave immediately, no one in Australia but Aborigines, etc. etc. Then we can talk about Israel, why limit it to just 1948? Hypocrisy is so tiresome and so unbecoming.

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