With summer here we are entering a precarious time in the Middle East, a time that deserves particular attention. This is a perilous moment for the region when the fuse that could reignite the cycle of violence that has long plagued this region could easily be lit. This is a time when efforts to get the peace talks moving have hit a brick wall once again due to intransigence on one side and missed opportunities on the other.
Additionally, this is the time when the antagonists have become somewhat complacent about their future and when the traditional outside interveners have just about thrown in the towel along with all hope of a breakthrough in the stalled efforts to avoid renewed violence and prevent the conflict from spilling over to engulf more countries, as this seems to be the case now with Iran and Turkey getting more involved every day. More on that in a moment.
For the Middle East there is also another dangerous moment fast approaching, one which in a way outweighs all the dangers mentioned above: the presidential elections in the United States.
While Election Day is still some two years away, nevertheless, campaigning for the reelection of the president will kick off ¬ unofficially of course ¬ in just a matter of months, as soon as the 2010 November mid-term elections are over. What is dangerous about this strung-out event is that it usually leaves a political void as the American political establishment becomes disassociated from the rest of the world.
With the president and his entire political machine focusing on the President’s reelection campaign typically means that many of the president's closest advisors end up getting plucked away from their functions to work full time on the campaign. Where is the danger in that?
The danger is that it allows some groups in the Middle East (and elsewhere) to think this might be an opportune moment to push forward an agenda some would accuse of being too personal and going counter to the peace road map.
Now if that was not enough to perturb your summer reading let us go back to the issue of new players in the conflict, the arrival of non-Arab Muslim participants in the conflict: mainly Iran and Turkey.
Iran, as we know, has already been actively involved in the Middle East conflict since the Islamic revolution of 1979 overthrew the monarchy and installed a strict theocratic regime. The ayatollahs took the conflict up another notch. They broke relations with Israel, established a military and intelligence presence in Lebanon through their support of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement that is funded, armed and trained by Tehran.
Hezbollah’s presence in south Lebanon, a traditionally Shiite area in essence gives Iran a beachhead on Israel’s northern border. Iran’s effort to acquire nuclear weapons further raises the level of anxiety among observers of Middle East politics for a number of reasons.
First, while it is very unlikely that Tehran will use nuclear weapons against
Israel without risking total annihilation by Israel there is in fact real worry that Iran could provide third parties with a nuclear device to deploy as part of a “dirty bomb.”
Now the real danger of expanding the conflict comes from the latest arrival on the political scene: Turkey. This development, as the British would say, throws a spanner in the works. Turkey was until not too long ago a strong ally of Israel. They had much in common: both were non-Arab countries living in a neighborhood populated by an Arab majority.
Both Turkey and Israel have the most powerful military in the region. And regardless of the fact that Turkey is an overwhelming Muslim country, until now, that did not really matter. But the election of Recep Tayyip Erdogan ¬ an Islamist – to the post of prime minister in Turkey changes the equation. Turkey is finding itself being slowly but surely dragged into the Middle East imbroglio.
If this rapprochement between the Turks and the Arab/Muslin world is left to build-up momentum the end result could plunge the region into an unprecedented cycle of violence, the sort of which was never seen. Give this some thought and ask your elected government officials that this issue needs to be resolved for the name of mankind.
You may return to your summer reading now.
By. Clause Salhani for OilPrice.com