Thursday, January 5, 2012

Mideast = Center of Turmoil!

Time Magazine: Vol. 179, NO. 1 / 2012
OMG, pigs can fly! Finally something of value from the folks at Time Magazine. Specifically, the first edition of 2012 has a cogent article on the Middle East that is on the one hand graphic and on the other hand reasonably accurate in its presentation of some of the major problems. This is more gas on the fire that the United States will most likely be sucked into, if only for our Treaties with Israel. The tow-page spread on pages 26 & 27 lay out the situation very clearly. It’s a shame that from Libya to Iran, from Yemen to Turkey, the Arab Spring is headed toward the Arab Bloodbath. It seems to me that folks in this region of the World have a passion with in-fighting, tribalistic land grabs, and a general distaste for each other. I do hope that the United States resists the temptation to once again play global peacemaker, and get involved in something we will regret more than anything we have done to date.

A Map of Trouble
What will the Middle East look like in a year? Private intelligence firm Stratfor plots the possibilities:

The country will remain in a state of contained chaos. In the absence of centralized power, fissures will continue to develop along east-west and tribal fault lines in the scramble for political power and rights to oil revenue. Militias will be the tool of choice for various competing factions.

The Jewish nation remains economically and militarily robust, but its national security rests on its peace treaty with Egypt, a Jordanian government favorable to Israel and a Syrian government that--while on the surface hostile--has quiet understandings with its local enemy. Uncertainty in Israel's neighborhood will grow, but Israel alone lacks the means to significantly influence the outcomes of any of the political crises surrounding it. In Syria, the most immediate case, Israel fears that the collapse of the current regime could lead to an Iranian-allied Islamist government in Damascus. Israel may thus face a more immediate threat from Iran on its northern frontier than from Tehran's nuclear-weapons program.

President Bashar Assad, backed by Iran, is running an intensive crackdown to keep the Assad clan in power. But even if he quits or is removed, the balance of power may not shift

The future of Lebanon rests in ethnically and religiously divided Damascus. If the Syrian regime survives, Iranian-allied Hezbollah will see its position in Lebanon dramatically strengthened; if Assad's rule collapses, an element of restraint imposed on Hezbollah by Syria disappears. The former scenario appears more likely. Either way, this will be a difficult year for Lebanon as proxy battles intensify between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Whatever civilian government emerges from the elections, keep one thing in mind: the military will retain control. The Egyptian opposition is deeply divided and lacks the weight to force the military to yield power. In fact, as unrest compounds the difficulties of daily life, the public will increasingly view the military as a source of stability. Egypt's insular focus on its economic and political troubles will undermine its ability to patrol the Sinai buffer region, thus increasing tensions with Israel.

Dramatic economic growth has made it the largest economy in the Islamic world and one of the fastest growing in Europe, but the pace will slow. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's cautious experimentation with his new role as leader of a regional power will continue, but Turkey will not undertake foreign adventures, certainly not alone.

An ideological tussle over conservative leadership has turned into open warfare between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

President Ali Abdullah Saleh promised to step down after February's elections. But a new government is unlikely to bring peace to a country beset by decades of civil strife

It is difficult to see how the Syrian regime can be overthrown without outside intervention, given that internal opposition groups are divided and disorganized. Military intervention, which would have to be led by the U.S., does not appear likely. The campaign in Libya took seven months, and Libya's defenses were not nearly as robust as Syria's. And unlike Libya, Syria is not a significant oil producer. The emergence of fractures within President Bashar Assad's clan cannot be ruled out, and Assad could be coerced into making a political exit. But Iran's goal for Syria is overall regime preservation, regardless of the political personality in power in Damascus.
Saudi Arabia

The Saudi royals face the rise of Iran and uncertainty about the U.S.'s ability and willingness to guarantee their interests. Unrest in Bahrain and in Saudi Arabia's Shi'ite-dominated and oil-rich Eastern province are warnings of Iran's ability to exploit instability. With increased Iranian influence along their northern border, the Saudis will face an extraordinarily difficult decision in 2012: maintain faith in their dependence on the U.S. for their national security or reach a painful accommodation with Iran. We expect the Saudis will choose the U.S., given the limits on Iranian power, but the Saudis will need demonstrations of U.S. will and ability to play a dominant security role in the Persian Gulf.

Iraq will not become an Iranian satellite, but Tehran will be able to exert tremendous influence to secure its western flank. Iraq--particularly northern Iraq--will become a more visible arena for Iranian-Turkish competition, since Mesopotamia is the primary place for Turkey to work on limiting the spread of Iranian influence. The vacuum created by the U.S. withdrawal will lead to a general deterioration in security conditions in Iraq as sectarian fault lines again come to the fore.

This will be a decisive year for Iran. The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq leaves Iran the pre-eminent military power in the Persian Gulf. Knowing this window of opportunity will not remain open long, Iran will try to consolidate and extend its new regional influence. As long as Iran is able to keep its allies in Syria in power and thus make them even more dependent on Tehran for survival, Iranian influence will stretch from Afghanistan to Lebanon. Even without that foothold in the Levant, Shi'ite-led Iran is in a position to intimidate Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and its neighbors. Iran is still operating under considerable constraints, however, and will prove unable to fundamentally reshape the politics of the region in its favor.

Bahrain will remain under heavy Saudi influence and continue to host a significant Gulf Cooperation Council security presence. It exemplifies the Persian Gulf dynamic: Iran can create problems that the Saudis must respond to, but Iran cannot create more problems than the Saudis can manage. Iran, whose support for the mostly Shi'ite uprising in 2011 caused tension between Iran and Bahrain, is content with Bahrain's being a long-term problem for the Saudis.

Jordan's Hashemite rulers face a large Palestinian population that has little love for the royal family. But this dynamic is not new, and the same factors that have allowed the Hashemite government to survive for decades--an excellent army and security apparatus--remain in place. Jordan will work to build credibility among Islamists and among its non-Jordanian population to help manage its unrest.

After the 2011 political crisis, 2012 will be a year of reconsolidation for outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh's faction. It will work to engage the most formidable elements of the opposition while taking advantage of foreign backing to re-entrench itself in the key organs of the state. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) will continue to benefit from Sana'a's distractions, but Saudi Arabia's dominant role in Yemen and continued U.S. operations in the country will act as a check on AQAP's expanded influence.

o   Power struggle
o   Economic crisis
o   Religious or ethnic conflict
o   Internal violence

Stratfor, based in Austin, Texas, provides intelligence and analysis to corporations, governments and individual subscribers,9171,2103273,00.html#ixzz2ozCIcuXU

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