Since the beginning of the New Year, I’ve been surveying various aspects of the region to give readers some sense of what to expect in 2014. Of course, such prognostications are always dubious and the Middle-East is particularly unpredictable. Having hedged my bets, I’m batting a 1000 for Egypt. This past week voters poured into the streets to approve the General Sissi backed revised constitution. Voter’s response provides an endorsement for Sissi’s run at the office of president. The ducks are all in a row.
In contrast, Israel’s position is good and bad news. Egypt’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood has been a severe blow to Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip. Dreams of importing terrorist equipment across the Egyptian border are now gone. At the other end of Israel, Hezbollah has had serious setbacks inside Lebanon. In addition, they lost fighters in the Syrian war and are now seen with suspicion because of supporting the Assad regime. Hezbollah had been an irritant for Israel. The lessening of pressure is positive.
One of the most hopeful signs is Iran’s seeming acceptance of nuclear control. T Media reports the centrifuges have been turned off and the possibility of nuclear armament is fading fast. U.N. inspectors will come in on a weekly basis. Iranian hard-liners call the agreement a “poisoned chalice’ and oppose President Rouhani’s efforts. Their opposition is the most positive sign that the deal is for real. Keeping nuclear weapons out of jihadist’s hands is great news for Israel.
On the other hand…
Sunni jihadist units that have connection with Al Qaeda have turned up as a new significant problem. The so-called “Arab Spring” brought radical change to countries like Libya, also sent a wave of political unrest across other countries. A rise in terrorism has been one of these consequences. The struggles in Iraq with endless bombings have given new concern about vulnerability on Israel’s eastern flank.
Syria remains a cause for concern. This week rebel units announced they would boycott peace talks in Geneva if Iran comes to the table. United Nation’s leadership had invited Iran but the rebel threat caused a withdrawal of the invitation. Such instability renews Israeli anxiety. Israel has had the position in regard to Assad “better the devil we know than the devil we don’t know.” They know the rebel movement is now dominated by jihadist’s elements that would turn Syria into another Iran. Israel realizes no one can bargain with these radicals. It is a “to-the-death” fight with these Muslim radicals.
If the extremists prevail, the region will remain unstable. Their anarchical viewpoints make them perpetual enemies of the state of Israel. Israel’s best defense is to make a settlement with the Palestinians (which doesn’t appear likely) and take that problem off the table. Other voices in Israel see an agreement as impossible and suggest the region should be annexed. The Palestinians can take a hike. Such a response would indeed set off a fire storm. However, the pressure inside Israel is to make no concessions to the Palestinians for the sake of their own security.
The bottom line? The coming year will not be easy for Israel. (of course it never has been) Israel must keep their powder dry and be prepared.