Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Happenings in the Greater Middle East

Debka is publishing claims that Egypt believes the recent attacks on Western tourists in Egypt were orchestrated by an Iranian agent or agents. There would be a lot for Iran to lose, and this has little to no upside potential for Iran that I can see. So I doubt it. Iran has both resources and the tactical skill to intervene far more effectively in Egyptian domestic affairs than this, if it was to want to try to influence Egyptian domestic affairs.

Egypt has one major issue that anyone outside of Egypt would care about - who will replace Mubarak. The US, on Israel's behalf is devoting and will devote tremendous resources to ensuring it is someone who, contrary to the wishes of Egypt's people, will, like Mubarak, follow policies acceptable to Israel.

Iran probably will not be able to compete with the US in Egypt when Mubarak dies, knows it, and therefore has no reason to sink resources in that country.

Egypt is trying to exert as much pressure on Hamas as possible to effectively recognize Israel or relinquish power in favor of the US/Israeli favorite Abbas. But Egyptians understand that the amount of pressure they can bare on Hamas is less than before Israel's December/January attacks.

If Egypt had not signed its treaty with Israel, it would not have gotten the Sinai back and would not now be in a position to break Israel's blockade on Gaza. Part of the agreement was that Egypt would not militarize the Sinai which means Israel could retake it if Israel felt it necessary. Israel's failure to hold hostile territory both in Lebanon and Gaza throws Israel's ability to retake the Sinai for any long period into question, but Egypt is right that some of its critics do not appreciate Egypt's position.

On the other hand, an Egyptian democracy, though it would not have signed the peace treaty in 1980, would certainly allow more goods to pass into Gaza today than Mubarak is. An indefinite dictatorship in Egypt is part of the cost of keeping Israel Jewish, and that cost is not generally accounted for when considering how expensive Israel's Jewish majority is to its American patrons.

Fayyad resigned and Clinton immediately told Israeli newspapers that she wants him back in any unity government. A clumsy move by Clinton that turns Fayyad into Abbas in one stroke.

Fayyad said he was resigning for the good of the Palestinian people. Hillary called him a liar, and she would know. Fayyad now will either publicly withdraw from consideration for a position in any unity government or he is a US/Israeli stooge, clear for everyone to see.

Israel is stalling. In general and in most specific current situations. I'm not sure Shalit is alive, but Israel is in no hurry to get him back and for now likes the status quo in Gaza more than any other plausible outcome. The clock is somewhat stopped on everything until it is clear who speaks for Israel's government. Israel's calculation or at least hope is that the status quo is one in which the Palestinians are becoming more and more demoralized.

Long term, I don't believe it is possible for Israel to remain a majority Jewish state. The Arab population is still growing and Israel's neighbors have populations that are becoming more, not less, hostile to Israel. But from Israel's point of view, lasting as a Jewish state for 40 years is not the same as lasting 20 years. Even if they look the same 50 years from now.

Israel's best long-term strategy is to eek out as many years as possible until, maybe ten years from now, maybe 30, maybe 50 years from now a ball drops and Israel is forced to accept an Arab political majority. And who knows? Maybe they'll be able to change something fundamental between now and then.

I've read in two different places that Western strategists believe Iran and Syria do not have resources to support Hezbollah's election campaign and therefore Lebanon's election will produce a pro-US government. I'll believe it if I see it. Hezbollah will retain its veto, I'm nearly certain. Will anti-US parties have enough influence to force reforms in the voting system? If not, Hezbollah can wait.

Britain also is talking directly with Hezbollah. Essentially the West is less hostile to that party than it was under Bush. That is good news for them, if only slightly.

Western commentators are making a lot of the Hariri tribunals. I'm not seeing why. They may, probably won't, but may be able to get Assad out. If they do, they'll get someone just as anti-Israel as he is. If not more. Like Iran cannot compete with the US in Egypt, the US cannot compete with Iran, in maneuvering a succession, in Syria.

But there are talks and the West is notably, if slightly less hostile to Syria than it was under Bush.

Saudi Arabia:
The Saudis seem to be taking a strong anti-Iran line. It is hard to tell because the Saudis do a very poor job of communicating their positions. But if Iran removes a substantial amount of its sanctions while retaining its support for anti-Israel groups, Saudi Arabia will be forced, no forced is wrong because ideologically that is what they would prefer, but Saudi Arabia will also increase its support either for the same groups or aligned groups. Saudi Arabia will also join Iran in challenging Israel's nuclear monopoly if Iran can do that at a reasonable cost. Not because of an Iranian threat (Iran offered to supply any Muslim country with centrifuges itself) but because the price the West can exact will have gone down.

The Saudis are to a degree misunderstood by their critics in a way similar to Egypt. The Saudi strategy is to wait, applying fairly steady pressure on Israel but while avoiding direct confrontation with the West.

The problem is this strategy is too clever by half. All this time the Saudis think they are slowly but surely squeezing Zionism they are aligning with Israel against whomever Israel perceives as its most threatening enemy of the moment.

The Saudis would prefer Israel succumbing to an Arab majority 50 years from now, if over these 50 years, they get to dress up and have fun talking big to the West about how rich and important they are, to Israel succumbing sooner but with the West hostile to them. If left to the Saudis though, Israel would get 1000 years of being 50 years away.

There are conflicting signals being released about Iran. The West will be less hostile than it was under Bush. How much less hostile? We won't know until we see.

Obama does not personally have the energy to be very active on Iran now. Reports are continuous that he is physically exhausted by domestic events. I expect to see slow moves toward reducing hostility.

The administration, by its default policy, is now trying to trade opening with Iran for international support for stricter sanctions. I'm not sure what Russia and China will be willing to give.

This can get tricky because if Iran feels threatened, it will make Iraq, Afghanistan and maybe Pakistan much more difficult for the US, and Russia and China know this and don't want this. We'll see.

Obama really plans on pulling out. This is like Condoleeza Rice and Bush calling for 2006 elections in Palestine. He really doesn't understand the extent to which a post-occupation Iraq will oppose the US vision of the region. Good. But I don't know what the scramble will look like when the US realizes what happened.

We're reading repeatedly that the US believes it is losing in Afghanistan. I guess now is the time it is possible to say such things, since it can be blamed on the previous administration. This is a massive effort to lower expectations. Good.

But the US does not really have a dispute with anybody in Afghanistan other than its support for Zionism. This Global War Over the Legitimacy of Israel is proving to be an expensive war for the US.

Pakistan, Pakistan, Pakistan. I believe that people all over the world have a fundamental right to make their own mistakes, learn from them and demonstrate they learned from them in democratic processes.

I didn't like that Zardari won the election. I'm sure the US did all it could to push the election his way. But I also think the martydom of his wife allowed him to win by a genuine expression of support from his people. I do not think Sharif should resort to violence until Zardari suspends elections or flagrantly breaks a law of that magnitude.

On the other hand, I think the long protest march planned by Sharif is a valid and good expression of protest. The US is continuing to apply pressure on Pakistan to retain a pro-US leader such as Zardari and to insulate him from democratic pressure.

This tension between the US and the people of Pakistan over the rulership of Pakistan has the potential to be very devastating to Pakistan and very expensive to the US.

As always, a democratic Pakistan, even one that is sympathetic to Bin Laden, would not be a threat to the US but for the US identification with Israel. The disastrous chaos I hope we do not see but fear we might turn out to be another high cost of the war Israel's patrons are waging against the Arab and Muslim world on Israel's behalf.

Erdogan is one of the best politicians in the world today, clearly the best in the Muslim world. I'm not sure of the exact numbers of the upcoming elections in Turkey, and he may have more resources allayed against him than before but if anyone can turn Turkey into a representative Muslim democracy that sets its own foreign policy democratically, it is him. I'm somewhat optimistic about Turkey over the medium term.

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