The Unraveling Middle East

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[Editor's note: the following is the first installment of a three-part series. Part two will appear in Monday's issue.]

The Middle East is in the grip of unprecedented upheaval. Libya is torn by civil war. Egypt and Tunisia have seen their long-time leaders ousted. Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen are wracked by protests, as is Saudi Arabia, with more planned in Lebanon and Kuwait. Oman has seen violence, and demonstrations swept Iraq as well. Both Algeria and Morocco are also experiencing unrest.

The causes of these uprisings are varied but unsurprising. Political repression, corruption, and poverty are key issues to the throngs that have taken to the streets. These complaints have been long-simmering, and while the scope of the protests has been surprising, the fact that popular unrest has occurred is not.

What has not been fully foreseen is just what effect these events will have on the balance of power in the Middle East, and across the globe. While the chaos is perplexing, a more disturbing scenario is beginning to emerge. While it might not be directly involved in every case of upheaval, Iran is becoming a clear beneficiary of it. Indeed, it may be that we are witnessing a major shift in the geopolitical balance of world power, one that could pit Iran against the West in a global conflict.

Already, there are signs of Iran’s taking advantage of the situation for its benefit. On February 24, two Iranian warships transited the Suez Canal and docked at the Syrian port of Latakia. Two days later, Iran and Syria signed an accord providing for an Iranian naval base at the port. This is a profound development. An Iranian base in the Mediterranean allows Teheran to considerably expand its naval reach, which has been growing thanks to exercises in the Red Sea. Along with such overt activity, Iran has benefited from developments in Egypt in other ways. The once-tight control Egypt exercised in the Sinai has been seriously weakened. This has allowed Hamas, backed by Iran, to infiltrate from Gaza, and for Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists to break out of Egyptian jails. Thus Iran’s proxies threaten Israel along its long and vulnerable Sinai border, adding to the pressure Israel faces from Gaza and Lebanon. Moreover, the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in post-Mubarak Egypt, and its close ties to Iran, might see a pro-Iranian state emerge, which would have severe strategic consequences for the West.

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  • Shel Zahav

    And yet, no Mohammed Jefferson or Mustapha Adams or Ahmed Franklin rises up among the Arabs. Only the ones who flee to professorships in the West.

  • Rossina

    David, I forwarded your article to my Occidental Petroleum clients in Bahrain and Qatar. Libya has been evacuated. You have your finger on the pulse!

  • artcohn

    In 1973/74 we learned of the strangle-hold that the Mid-East had on the supply and price of oil. Fpor al;most 40 years our political leaders have done little to rectify this enormous problem. They talk about Solar and Wind power. But these can NOT substite for oil's products (gasoline and diesel oil) use in moving vehicles until there is an adequate battery technology and a shift to plug-in cars.
    Europe is also under Russia's stranglehold on natural gas, and has not done much to protect itself.

  • Dan B.

    Part of the problem is the dynamic combination of social-media inventions like Facebook and Twitter along with uncontrollable inflow of petrodollars is a source of increasing turmoil. The very concept of "democracy" is being trivialized as the West is labeling every rebel group a democratic force, even when we know they have no likelihood of creating anything resembling democracy. Democracy has never meant anything to Islamic nations, and they could not even begin to define it.

    All of the ME countries are able to somehow subsidize their population's demands, including extra cheap gas and food. Egypt has kept the cost of a loaf of bread at a few cents, and their total subsidies are over $2 billion a year, about what the U.S. gives them. Other ME countries subsidize gas, which at over $100 a gallon will be around $250 billion a year in the ME. Until recently, gas in Iran was about $0.34 a gallon and is still about $0.75 in Venezuela, up from .12 cents. Some others: Egypt, $0.65, Nigeria $0.38; Kuwait, $0.78. The end result is their population has every reason to waste gas which is running out. The same handouts there are for food, shelter, education (male), medicine, etc. They are able to dish out our dollars to buy off their population and remain in control. And it's still falling apart!

    The West should shift gears immediately and tax all energy imports to keep the dollars at home. We already waste too much energy with oversized cars, unnecessary trips, air travel, on and on. Even if it causes economic hardship to those who waste energy, it will help the economy of the countries who have more to spend internally and less need for external oil-defense warfare. The easiest alternative to oil is to stop using as much – at least while the choice is still ours.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    We can drill here and drill now but for the leftist American Govenment and
    leftist interference in Congress, State Governments and City Government.
    We must clean house in America before we will be able to make a lasting
    difference in the Nations we have to deal with and understand just who
    we have use for or not. A complete reorganization of our relationships must
    be made with a new World view of who we are, what we can do and just
    how demoralized we have become because of the fifth column of socialist,
    communist, leftist undermining in every aspect of our lives. America must
    do more at home than abroad to make life worth living and provide a decent
    future to our children……………………………………………………………William