When looking at the Middle East and the efforts of the United States, and we use the word efforts in the weakest of definitions possible, one sees a string of disasters where the Palestinian/Israeli Peace Process must be considered to be the shining glory when compared to the rest of the situations. One almost shakes there head muttering, “Where to start, where to start?” The United States is finding even removing their equipment and forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan to be a difficult and unnecessarily expensive task to complete. Looking at the sanctions which are presumably deterring Iran from moving forward with their nuclear program and forcing them to deal honestly with the United Nations IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) one sees them making life difficult for many of the least affluent citizens and devastating the middle class merchants but having little if any influence on the government who is proceeding without any difficulties with their nuclear programs for enriching Uranium to just over twenty percent, developing their plutonium production, advancing their ballistic missile programs, and even importing banned substances, materials and even equipment with such minimal difficulties that they are actually erecting yet another nuclear facility if intelligence recently received in Europe is to be believed. Meanwhile, the newly elected President of Iran, Hassan Rowhani, was their former nuclear negotiator who was very adept at being obstructive and is not likely to change the Iranian goal of becoming nuclear weapons capable. He also will not be as ham-fisted as Ahmadinejad and should be a far superior deceiver who is quite adept at misdirection and false representation in negotiations and when speaking to the press. He will prove to be much as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu described him, “A wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
While talking about Iran, we may as well address Iraq and how much of the efforts expended by the United States have been completely reversed since their departure. The most obvious turn of events was the aligning by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with Iran. This alliance has led to the Iranian airlifts of war materials and personnel to Syria which was something the United States would have actively opposed if they had any remaining influence. Additionally, al-Qaeda has returned and recently breached two Iraqi prisons managing to bring about the escape of over five-hundred of their leading members who were incarcerated. This infusion of top level, experienced manpower will greatly enhance the capabilities of the al-Qaeda terror groups in Iraq, Syria and possibly even in Afghanistan and in the Sinai Peninsula. The level of violence had been increasing even before the raids on the two prisons and now the effect will be a force multiplier on many fronts. There will be a lasting effect of the al-Qaeda raid that will be felt for years possibly decades and will greatly enhance the capability of al-Qaeda worldwide. This will also make the situation in Iraq become even more violent and destabilized. Iraq has gone in a short period from an American success into a potential for a failed state should the violence continue to build. The one bright result has been the semi-autonomous Kurdish areas in the north of the country. We will cover more on this Kurdish area later.
Next we move to Afghanistan where Afghan President Hamid Karzai has turned to the Taliban to deal with them after he felt betrayed upon finding out that United States President Obama had approached the Taliban over two years ago in an effort to cut a deal to allow the United States to leave Afghanistan without facing increased violence. President Obama’s approach of the Taliban became an utter failure once he had announced that after the surge in American forces that then the United States was going to draw down their troop strength and prepare to leave by a set date. From that point on the Taliban decided to simply wait out the Americans. Now Afghan President Hamid Karzai has decided to see exactly how far he can push the Americans by levying fines, taxes, fees or whatever one wishes to call them on the removal of equipment from his country. Reports claim that the Afghan government wants to charge the U.S. Military $1,000 in customs fees for every cargo container that leaves the country. This began over a year ago and was just one more manner in which the United States’ supposed allies have been attempting to fleece the goose before it departs taking its future golden eggs with. Unfortunately, this is an example of some of the more favorable events of relations between Presidents Karzai and Obama. It appears almost inevitable that the Taliban will return and take control over most of Afghanistan and we might even see the return of al-Qaeda training grounds in the not too distant future. Certainly Afghanistan will not be a shining example of American success.
Then there is the military coup that shall not be named a coup in Egypt where the military in response to massive millions of demonstrators in the streets removed the duly elected Muslim Brotherhood backed President Morsi and imposed their hand-picked replacement in the Presidency promising to hold election as soon as possible. Egyptian Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi placed as interim President the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court Adli Mansour. Feeling pressure to announce a date for new elections, interim President Adli Mansour stated that a parliamentary vote would be held in about six months which would be followed soon after by a presidential election. Meanwhile the levels of violence continue to climb with the Muslim Brotherhood calling for massive “peaceful” demonstrations and Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also calling for demonstrations to produce a show of support by the people for the military’s actions in removing President Morsi. The ensuing confrontation of these two groups could explode today after Friday services have ended. Another problem which has resulted from the lack of government control has been complete lawlessness in the Sinai Peninsula. There is currently a multi-divisional Egyptian force deployed after receiving Israeli permission into the Sinai Peninsula in an effort to impose order and end the buildup of terrorist groups who had developed a large presence taking advantage of the lack of continuous governance in Egypt. There does not appear to be any quick fix in store as Egypt is highly likely to spin into more violence possibly even reaching levels of a Civil War similar as to the disaster raging in Syria.
That brings us to Syria where an all-out and excessively destructive Civil War has raged for over two years. Much of the national infrastructure is in a shambles and there are millions upon millions of refugees currently in camps in Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon. There have even been a couple of dozen injured victims from the fighting that have crossed the Golan Heights and received care in Israel before being sent either back into Syria or into Jordan. President Obama has claimed he supports the removal of Syrian President Bashir al-Assad as long as it did not require him to exert much effort. He originally promised to supply humanitarian supplies but refused to send weapons or other military aid to the Rebels. His main stance pertained to the use of chemical weapons which President Obama threatened would cause serious consequences should Bashir al-Assad be proven to have deployed such weapons of mass destruction. Then there came initial proof provided by the Israelis, French and British that al-Assad had indeed deployed chemical weapons against the Rebels and some civilians in Aleppo. The severe consequences implemented by President Obama was to fiercely restate that use of chemical weapons would cross his “Red Line” and result in serious consequences. This dance continued through the next few weeks until President Obama could no longer pretend that the evidence was inconclusive and he then promised to supply some of the Rebels with light weapons and ammunition. Somewhat behind the scenes was Saudi Arabia who has been supplying the Syrian Rebels with light and medium weapons for the past two years with the blessings of the United States. This was the way that the United States could funnel whatever supplies they deemed necessary as long as no game changing weapons systems were transferred by the Saudi Arabian government. The one plus in Syria is that the Kurdish population has carved out an autonomous area in the northeastern parts of Syria. With any luck and the well-earned and owed assistance of the United Nations and the rest of the world, the Kurdish areas in Syria and neighboring Iraq will be allowed to be independent as a reformed Kurdistan.
The Civil War in Syria has gone through a transformation here in the past four to six weeks and is no longer simply about deposing Syrian President Bashir al-Assad. The struggle has now become the next step in the world jihad being waged by the Sunni Muslims which include the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda against the Iranian Shiite front which is fighting to retain the Shiite Crescent which stretches from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea and includes Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The Lebanon branch of the Iranian Shiites is Hezballah which has taken some serious casualties over the last few weeks of the latest offensive thrust from the Iranian backed forces who are merely using al-Assad as their excuse but are actually now fighting to retain their supply line from Iran to Hezballah who represent the Iranian front against Israel. There are two other fronts to the Civil War between the Sunnis and the Shiites in Syria which have not received much coverage. The more active front has been the Shiites in Turkey who have been rioting in an attempt to weaken and eventually overthrow Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and replace him with a Shiite ruler who would follow the dictates out of Iran. The other front has been quieted as there was a recent joint training exercise in Jordan which included United States troops which some have remained along with their equipment in order to strengthen Jordanian King Abdullah II. The threat in Syria will likely intensify in the coming weeks as some of the recently freed al-Qaeda leadership and highly experienced fighters in Iraq make their way into Syria. The al-Qaeda offensive in Syria will eventually, should they succeed in Syria, spread across into Lebanon and possibly even into Egypt should the situation there disintegrate much further and devolve into another Civil War similar as in Syria except in Egypt it would be Sunni Islamists against the Egyptian military. Presumably the United States would support the Egyptian military should such fighting break out, but as the United States just decided to put the delivery of four F-16 jet fighters until the unrest in Egypt becomes more settled that becomes questionable.
There are also the lower level conflicts which remain simmering in Libya and Tunisia. Libya has broken down into tribal and clan level skirmishes as well as the country becoming a training ground for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Libya has also become a place to organize fighting units and training them before injecting them into Mali, Nigeria and other areas in neighboring African countries where there is fighting between Islamic rebels and the governments. With Libya having become something of a failed state this was bound to happen and will only get more serious unless somebody either takes over as the new strongman much like Moammar Gadhafi and literally imposes their will on the more populous tribes forcing them to support them. In Tunisia the people had elected by a slim majority a Muslim Brotherhood majority government. They had expected to see some economic growth and development or at the very least some relief from the burdensome rules of the previous government. No such relief has been felt and the natives are getting restless.
Lastly there is the ever present Palestinian-Israeli Peace Process which has been misrepresented as having been restarted by Secretary of State Kerry. With Secretary Kerry making six trips since taking office to the Middle East in an attempt to force the two sides back to the negotiation’s table, he has made progress but not necessarily as much as advertised. Yes, the two sides are supposedly sending representatives to Washington DC to meet. No, they are not coming to hash out the final status issues. The coming negotiations are simply negotiations about whether or not to meet to actually negotiate and what will be required from each side to facilitate such negotiations. Mahmoud Abbas has not given up on imposing his preconditions; he has simply sidestepped everything and is now making his preconditional demands through a mediator, namely Secretary Kerry. Thus far it appears that Secretary Kerry is having no reservations about presenting Abbas’s preconditions to the Israelis and has already pried a concession from Prime Minister Netanyahu, a release of an unspecified number but rumored to be approximately one-hundred of some of the longest serving terrorist prisoners. Many of these prisoners are serving multiple life sentences as they have the blood of numerous Israeli victims through their planning, bomb-making, and actual actions on their hands. Many Israelis believe that this was an outrageous concession and will hold this against the Prime Minister for as long as they live. If these talks do not produce tangible results which are believed by many Israelis to be favorable, a highly unlikely scenario, then it is doubtful that Prime Minister Netanyahu will have any future in Israeli politics. There are those in Israel who suspect that President Obama is doing a great amount of arm-twisting and even leveling threats of withdrawal of United States support in both arms and in use of the American veto in the Security Council to squeeze Netanyahu in order to be able to present President Abbas with an irresistible offer. Our prediction is that unless the offer includes all of Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Right of Return for all five to six million Palestinian Refugees into Israel accepted immediately as full citizens and either their homes and lands restored or equivalent properties given them, then Mahmoud Abbas will refuse and walk away and start another round of violence. All in all the Middle East is in the worst shape than it has seen since the end of World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
Beyond the Cusp