Throughout the last few months and even more so in the past few weeks, discussions of a possible Israeli strike on Iran has come to the forefront of the agenda for many politicians, security analysts, and entities with interests in the region. Despite the increased rhetoric on all sides of this issue, which has been enhanced with the coverage of a frenzied media, the reality is that the probability of such an attack against Iran likely remains low for the near term.
The increased chatter regarding an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is a direct result of decisions by both the United States and the European Union to impose sanctions on the Islamic Republic. The decision to enforce such sanctions by the aforementioned powers likely arose due to three primary factors: the understanding that negotiations with Iran surrounding its nuclear program are futile, persistent pressure from leadership within the United States’ security and political leadership, and the over-implied threats by Israel that the military option is ‘on the table’.
The Arab Spring: The Decline of the Arab Nation-State?
By Danny B.
The “Arab Spring,” simplistically coined as a regional freedom and democracy movement, is leading to protracted periods of sectarian fighting and an accelerated breakdown of the Arab states.
The genesis of Arab states is in mandates maintained by European powers, Britain and France, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War One. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, with reluctant consent from Moscow, carved up zones of influence for the two colonial powers in the Middle East. As a result, newly independent Arab states were hastily crafted without much consideration for outstanding sectarian conflicts. Generally speaking, concepts of nation-states are rather foreign to the region, thus a lack of unifying narratives, combined with outstanding internal sectarian conflicts, and destined these Arab states to be plagued with a myriad of seemingly irreversible problems.
For decades, Arab states have attempted to establish a variety of political platforms to ensure economic growth, security, and increase sovereign power. Excluding the oil-rich GCC monarchs, the political concepts of Arab socialism (Baathism), pan-Arabism, and secular-nationalism have failed. Then the collective Arab defeat in the Six Day War against Israel, compelled many in the Muslim world to seek a new sociopolitical answer to the Jewish State and the West. Their defeat, in addition to other factors, was one catalyst for the Islamic awakening in those nations. That said, moderate political Islamic movements, like the Muslim Brotherhood, endured decades of modest, yet solid beginnings as a result of suppressive secular dictatorships. But with the weakening or ousting of these leaders, the political Islamists have seized the initiative, thus set to rule many Arab states. Most surprising however, are the unprecedented gains by more radical Salafist sects throughout the region – at the expense of inept liberal parties – which has propelled them to lead the new opposition against their new rivals, the Muslim Brotherhood. It is important to note that Salafist Islam comes in various degrees, but the their burgeoning influence results from the work of the most radical Salafists. Their surge has become one of the most important consequences of the “Arab Spring.” For these reasons, this Salafist stream now appears to be the primary obstacle for more moderate political Islam, embodied in parties such as the Freedom and Justice in Egypt, or the Ennahda Party in Tunisia.
One tribe’s cooperation with various militant groups will continue to challenge stability in some of Africa’s most vital nations
By Jay R.
Since the downfall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya early last year, weapons proliferation throughout the Middle East and North Africa is on the rise and of primary concern. It is now widely known that masses of Libyan weaponry have made their way into the hands of such militant groups as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, and Somalia’s al-Shabaab. Libyan weaponry has traveled as far as the Gaza Strip and appeared in hand of militant groups there.
With the recent unrest in Somalia and Nigeria, the above-mentioned groups have been deeply reported on. However, one tribe, heavily active in Africa’s Sahel desert region is operating under the radar in comparison. The Tuareg tribe, composed of 1.2 million people, is historically nomadic. They have long roamed northwest Africa, primarily through the nations of Algeria, Libya, Mali, and Niger. Today, the group has become sedentary, the result of which has seen the Tuaregs actively engage such countries, particularly the Malian government, for stakes in power sharing and wealth benefits from the country’s natural resources.
The ongoing battle for the Tuareg’s perceived rights most recently manifested in the two-year Tuareg Rebellion in Mali and Niger from 2007-2009. This rebellion was ended through a series of peace talks and amnesty allowances; however, the conflict persists to this day as the Malian government regularly takes on the Tuareg militants along the Nigerian border.
Israel-Cyprus relations: Revolutionary alliance or negotiating tactic?
By Dan R.
The discovery of natural gas off the shores of Cyprus and Israel in the eastern Mediterranean has marked the beginning of a new chapter in the Middle East conflict. Reports began to surface last week, claiming that Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, will discuss the stationing of Israeli fighter jets at a Cypriot airbase on his visit to the island nation on February 16. If such reports prove to be accurate, the event has the potential to be a revolutionary strategic alliance. However, the aforementioned discussions may in fact be purely an Israeli negotiating tactic in an effort to bridge the rift between it and its former ally Turkey.
The Middle East is widely known as the staging ground for the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yet, there is a lesser known conflict, greatly overshadowed by that between Israel and her Arab neighbors – that which involves Turkey and Cyprus. The conflict between Turkey and Cyprus, like the Arab-Israeli, also has a history of bloody confrontation on religion, ethnicity, territory and recognition. However, the aspect that reaches headlines above all others is the ongoing dispute over natural gas deposits that lay off the Cypriot southern coast. The discovery launched a thus far rhetorical battle over drilling rights between Greek Cyprus and Turkey as the patron of the Greek Republic’s breakaway Turkish Cypriot counterpart.
Israel has developed and maintained several natural gas drilling and pumping platforms in the eastern Mediterranean Sea in its Exclusive Economic Zone. Moreover, Israeli companies, such as Delek, own a significant share of drilling platforms in Cyprus. Israel thus, likely sees the natural gas reserves as a strategic asset that is vital to ensure Israel’s economic and energy independence.
Israel is well known for its determination and dedication with regard to the protection of its interests positioned outside its borders. That said, the stationing of a permanent air force operation base on foreign soil would essentially be a revolution in Israeli military affairs. If the reports are true, this will be the first time that Israel will deploy IDF airmen outside the borders of Israel (not including Palestinian territories), a step that would likely require legislative action.
In the absence of collective nationalism, the transitional government must buy the loyalty of renegade militias with resources it may not have.
Libya is currently undergoing a critical phase of its transition process, as the recognized government (NTC) attempts to assert its power over the country. The focal point of these efforts lies at the reformation of the Libyan national military. In post Gaddafi-Libya, this feat requires garnering the trust of powerful tribal militias, many of whom are reluctant to relinquish their hard-fought positions acquired during the civil war.
Efforts to establish a national military reached a crucial phase in January, when the NTC named Yussef Al-Mangush as chief of staff. The appointment has since been rejected by two powerful coalitions of tribal militias; the Thwars coalition, which includes the Misrata and Zintan factions; and the Cyrenaica Military Council (CMC), composed of militias in eastern Libya. Continue reading In Libya, The Militias Have The Upper Hand→
Pentagon Budget Cuts: A Cause For Concern?
By Jay R.
What does a ‘leaner’ American military mean for the Middle East? In a word: Proxies.
On January 5, President Barak Obama announced from the Pentagon that the American defense budget was going to see significant cuts – approximately 500 billion dollars over the next ten years. The announcement sounded alarms both at home and abroad, with many concerned that the United States would surely lose its military superiority and squander its influence in the Middle East. However, such concerns are baseless and unfounded as the United States will continue to maintain a military budget that is greater than the next top ten military spenders combined.
Over the last decade, the United States has been involved in two counterinsurgency wars – Iraq and Afghanistan – totaling a cost of nearly 1.3 trillion dollars. Participation in the Iraq conflict has ended and the US is slowly drawing down its forces in Afghanistan in anticipation of a 2014 exit. The ending of these two wars will significantly absorb the budgetary cuts that the Obama administration is planning. Furthermore, the United States government and citizenry alike have lost all appetite for any military commitment that would result in the deployment of its troops to the Middle East again, therefore diminishing the likelihood for their reappearance anytime soon. Continue reading Pentagon Budget Cuts: A Cause For Concern?→
Egypt’s Anti-Western Future: Rhetoric or Reality?
By Ron G. and Daniel N.
Despite the risks, both the SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood have much to gain by exploiting anti-western conspiracies which are rooted in Egyptian Society.
Egypt continues to reel from the aftermath of the recent high profile raids against foreign-backed NGO’s by state security forces. Egyptian human rights watchdogs have condemned the raids as an effort by the SCAF to subdue the groups which are fomenting criticism against its policies, while ignoring the large amounts of funds being illicitly transferred to Islamist parties from the Persian Gulf. The United States and European Union have also stepped up their criticism, with Washington hinting at cutting off its longtime financial aid package.
The American threats have sparked an outcry amongst Egypt’s conservative groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which is slated emerge the dominant party in parliamentary elections. The FJP’s legal advisor, Ahmad Abu-Baraka, said on Sunday that the party will ask the newly-elected parliament to abolish the US aid, which he claimed “serves as a means to interfere with Egypt’s internal issues’; reportedly adding that ‘America and its money can go to hell”.
American foreign aid to Egypt is estimated at roughly 2 billion dollars annually, with $1.3 billion infused to military support. Egypt has enjoyed this financial support since the signing of the peace treaty with Israel in 1979, in which the aid was a crucial factor in keeping the country’s crumbling economy functioning at a basic level. Most recently, governmental officials have warned that Egypt’s national economy is currently facing its most serious crisis in years. Since the January 2011 revolution, the economy has suffered repeated blows to tourism and foreign investment as a result of the unrest, in addition to ongoing attacks on its natural gas pipeline in the Sinai Peninsula. Continue reading Egypt’s Anti-Western Future: Rhetoric or Reality?→
Yemen’s Greatest Challenge
By Gabi A.
Getting the oil flowing again is a basic requirement for the success of any future government.
Even as fears of continued factional conflict continue to attract media attention, the question of economic stability and sustainability in Yemen has barely received the consideration needed to avoid a spiral into the status of a failed state. The interim government in the country faces difficult political challenges in the weeks ahead as it prepares for what many observers are hoping will be the country’s first free election. The head of the interim government, Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, is already facing calls to resign as protests continue to rage in the streets of the capital city of Sanaa with demonstrators facing off against forces loyal to now supposedly deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The destruction brought on by the nearly-ten-month uprising against the regime of Saleh has wreaked havoc not only on the delicate political system but also on the nation’s oil production infrastructure that provides the lifeblood for the economy. Oil exports are responsible for somewhere between 60-70% of government revenues and 90% of overall national exports. Continue reading Yemen’s Greatest Challenge→
War in Gaza: Sooner Rather Than Later?
By Ron G.
Unfortunately for Hamas, the Gaza Strip remains a negligible pawn on the Middle East chessboard, a playing card to be used by regional powers when it suits them most.
Tension in southern Israel remains high after the Israeli Air Force targeted a smuggling tunnel and another terror-related facility in the Gaza Strip following the fire of four Kassam rockets into Southern Israel on December 28. The recent exchange of fire was triggered by the targeted killing of two militants in the Gaza Strip on December 27, who according to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were en-route to commit a terror attack along the country’s southern border with Egypt. At least one of the militants killed in the raid was reportedly an Islamic Jihad member.
Until now, the Islamic Jihad’s response has been relatively mild. In previous instances, the militant group responded by firing larger salvos of rockets into Israel, and to greater distances. The mild response can be attributed to a number of factors. First and foremost, the group has suffered serious losses in its recent skirmishes with Israel, especially during the months of August, September and October. Second, the Islamic Jihad is being restrained by Hamas, who controls the Gaza Strip and has a low interest in escalating the situation at this point. Lastly the group is being pressured by both Fatah and Hamas to avoid an escalation at a time when reconciliation talks between Palestinian factions are underway.
Since the cessation of operation Cast Lead in 2009, both Israel and Gaza-based militants have upheld an unspoken status quo. In this new reality, sporadic rocket fire into the area surrounding the Gaza Strip was largely tolerated, with each such incident met with a limited IDF response. Every violation of this status quo has led to a temporary and localized escalation. These exchanges usually included bouts of more intensive rocket fire into Israel’s southern cities, answered with more costly targeted attacks by the Israeli Air Force against more sensitive targets in the Gaza strip. Continue reading War in Gaza: Sooner Rather Than Later?→
While the situation in Cairo isn’t as bad as the media makes it out to be, the reality has changed drastically since Mubarak’s ousting.
In the past weeks, media coverage on Egypt has focused on the plight of a select group of protesters who took to the streets of Downtown Cairo to combat teargas-firing government troops with rocks and Molotov cocktails. Tahrir Square, Mohammed Mahmoud Street, and the rest of central Cairo were made to seem as if the entire city had been engulfed in a battle royal of tear gas and black smoke. While even the average Cairene will tell you not to go near Downtown, the rest of the city remains largely unaffected by ongoing political unrest, with locals making every effort to return the capital to a sense of normality. While the effects of political turmoil may have been hyped, Cairo has become especially hazardous in recent months, and there are a number of dangers that still pose a risk to the unsuspecting visitor.
Depending on your luck, traveling to Cairo can be a roller coaster ride right from the get-go. Cairo’s international airport itself has been the scene of various scuffles relating to just about every contentious topic in the Egyptian discourse. Labor related sit-ins, fighting between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime, and frustration over the general disorder and overcrowding at the arrivals hall have commonly resulted with the intervention of baton-wielding military police. Continue reading Safe Travel in Cairo: Debunking the Myths→