The Future of the Middle East


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In recent weeks, the emerging Middle East has given pause to the early optimists of the Arab Spring. Egypt reopened its border with Gaza, Amr Moussa seems poised to win the presidency there, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has been ruthlessly cracking down on anti-regime protests, Yemen has descended into something close to civil war, and a Hamas-Fatah unity government is set to call for a vote at the UN General Assembly on unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.

To get a sense of where these and other issues in the region are headed, I spoke with Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor and publisher of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. He is the author of more than a dozen books on the Middle East.

Seth Mandel: What are the major events to watch for, and what are their most likely consequences?

Barry Rubin: First, on June 12, Turkey will have an election. That election will probably be won by the government, whether or not it gets a two-thirds majority. The current rulers are going to take this as a signal to take a much tougher line toward Israel and the United States. It is possible that the extent of the increase of Turkey’s enmity toward Israel after that election will astonish the world.

If the governing AK party gets a two-thirds’ majority, that means it will have control of rewriting the Turkish constitution. They will try to create a presidential regime, Erdogan will run for president, and we will see Turkey moving into an increasingly visible alliance with Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah. That’s not alarmism, that’s a serious analysis.

Number two. The Palestinian effort at the UN to gain unilateral recognition for a Palestinian state will fail; the U.S. will veto. But it’s going to be a mess, and it’s a mess created by the incompetence of the Obama administration, which could have prevented this.

Number three—the big one: Egyptian parliamentary elections in September. As of now, the moderate democrats have not organized any serious party. The only serious parties organized are Islamist parties—not only the Muslim Brotherhood but others—and left-wing parties or radical nationalist ones.

I do not know whether there will be an Islamist majority, but there will be a radical anti-American majority in parliament. I have no doubt of that. It literally can’t be any other way. So this is going to have to be covered in the media.

It will be interesting to try to predict what the headlines will look like in the New York Times the day after the election. How will they spin this? What will they say? What can they say about this? This is very, very serious. At that point it should be clear that the Obama policy has been a catastrophe. He helped bring down the Egyptian regime and the result is a radical anti-American regime that’s ready to go into conflict with Israel.

SM: What is the significance of the opening of Egypt’s border with Gaza?

BR: The opening of the Gaza border is one step in that direction [of conflict with Israel]. So what does it mean that they’re opening the border, even if not now but when a new elected president and parliament take office? It means that weapons, terrorists, and money will flow freely into Gaza.

And what does that mean? It means that Hamas will become bolder. And at some point, let’s say in the next year, it will attack Israel with rockets and mortars. And Israel will have to respond militarily.

But at that point we are all going to have to ask the question, What will Egypt do? What will the Egyptian government do? If Amr Moussa is president with a radical parliament or even an Islamist parliament they could send troops. It could become an Egypt-Israel war.

But there are other possibilities. Perhaps they will simply let thousands of Egyptian volunteers go into Gaza to fight. Perhaps it will allow, or not be able to stop, or not try too hard to stop, attacks across the Egypt-Israel border. Again, this is not some alarmist fantasy but realistic scenarios that must be prepared for.

If Amr Moussa is elected president, he is not an Islamist and not a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood. But is he going to resist pressure from parliament and the masses for a tough stance? Won’t he try to take advantage of this to promote his own interests and anti-Israel beliefs? This is especially true as Egypt’s terrible economic situation does not permit him to offer the masses a better life or even food at current prices.

Now one can say: Don’t worry, they won’t do anything because the Egyptian military wants to keep getting American aid money. Now that is an argument. But is that enough? Can we base our entire Middle East strategy on that hope?

We have seen cases where countries and governments have been willing to throw away American aid for political goals. Remember that the Iranian revolution threw away all the American aid and military sales. So merely to maintain that everything will be OK because of that money issue is not a satisfactory argument. In addition to that, keep in mind that Egypt is going to face a major economic problem for which there is no solution, and no amount of U.S. aid is going to resolve that problem. The price of food is going to continue to go up.

They are not going to be able to build new housing. They are not going to be able to handle the problem of unemployment. They’re not going to be able to create jobs. This is the reality. So what happens when, as is fully predictable, Egypt’s government is unable to deliver on its promises and the country will go into crisis? What’s going to happen?

SM: What’s your impression of the West’s reaction to these changes taking place in the region?

BR: The things that I’m talking about are totally predicable things. And yes, they are being ignored in the media. Now the new line is that the Muslim Brotherhood are good guys and moderates, the problem is these radical jihadist Salafi groups. Muslim Brotherhood is good; jihadists are bad. But the Muslim Brotherhood is a jihadist group and is in an alliance with these groups. It’s ridiculous to make this distinction.

So basically we are going into a series of totally predictable crises in which there is no serious analysis of the problems, much less the solutions, by the U.S. government, media, experts, and the public debate generally.

And even those three crises leave aside other issues. It’s now June but the U.S. government has still not done anything on Syria at all. Sanctions on Iran are leaking, and we know the three main reasons why they are leaking—it’s China, Russia, and Turkey. And the U.S. government is doing nothing about that. In fact, it’s consciously permitting leaks to continue.

So we are facing a serious crisis of what I might call the return to the 1970s with Islamists in place of Arab nationalists. And again all of this is totally predictable.

SM: How should we be approaching these issues?

BR: What is needed is a strategy that recognizes that the principle regional problem is the challenge of revolutionary Islamism, and what is needed is for the United States to take the lead in developing an alignment that brings together the U.S., the Europeans, the relatively moderate Arab regimes, and Israel, a strategy that supports the oppositions in Turkey, Iran and Lebanon, that recognizes the enemies are Iran and Syria and Hamas and Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood and Iraqi insurgents, and then deal with that in the manner that the Soviet Union and its allies were dealt with in the Cold War. It’s very simple, and of course you have to get into the details but they are not going to do it.

SM: How should Israel respond?

BR: There are options in dealing with these threats. Israel can deal with this to a large extent successfully or as successfully as possible. The first thing, which is already happening, is the need to rebuild what in Israel is called the Southern Front, which is the defense along the border with Egypt. And that is going to cost a lot of money and people are going to have to do more reserve days, but it can be done.

Israel is going to have to deal with the flotilla, which arrives in mid-June. And Israel is going to have to deal with any attempts of people to cross its border. And what Israel does or doesn’t offer the PA in negotiation is pretty much one of the least important issues for Israel now. I mean it is not a central issue. It’s not an important issue.

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  • Kegs

    Well we've given aid to Pakistan in return for them hiding terrorists for years that want us dead so what's the problem? It's not like India is an ally or anything… their little beef with their neighbors is their problem.

    Yeah lets just keep pretending terrorism is no big deal.

    • dr.music

      KEGS my dear friend who i don't know…please don't say that about Beautiful India….
      Beautiful India has suffered the most because of dirty islam. It does not matter where you are or how far ..islam will definately try to get you and your women…including your daughters…..The Khyber Pass was India's curse …as bad as the west's open door policy to islam. India was and is the first country to take filthy islam to court and reclaim it's pre-islamic heritage…that is an act that all countries will have to follow….Indiai is the Pioneer in anti-islamic movements…please give credit where due for if we ignore India's contribution to ant-islamic movements and resistance we'll all have to start further back. We should actually salute BEAUTIFUL INDIA.

  • Femi Mafe

    Very realistic projection of expected events in the Middle East. I only wish the leaders are listening. Endless conflicts; endless wars… what have they gained; what have they to gain? The path of peaceful coexistence is a much better road to tread!

  • Dispozadaburka

    Very good article.

    • suprkufrB

      very good and very depressing!

  • The_Lord_Regent

    In short, it's on. The Israelis have to cowboy up now. They have to build up their counter-attack capabilities now. They need to recruit as many bodies (all the Christians driven out by the PA since the Olso Accord) as possible. They need to lay in all the beans, arms & ammo, medical, and reconstruction supplies as possible, now.

    Hm, wouldn't be a bad idea for Americans to lay in supplies as well. Things will probably get a bit sporty before too long.

  • Firoze

    Truely its going to happen…Israel/USA under destruction and Islam again to rule

  • Monty Lasovsky

    What is always missed in the overall analysis of the Jihadists is the numbers game.
    If one accepts that the Jihadists are generally of the Muslim faith, we have to understand that there are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world and the number is growing daily. How do we handle this "little" statistic?

    • Fred Dawes

      Do not deal with the muslims, do not let muslims into the european states or into any nation state AND REMOVE ALL Follower of islam from any nation state that is not muslim and go to war with Islam and mean it. and this will never happen.

    • mike

      Nukes

  • Fred Dawes

    The future of the middle east will be blood and evil as it has always been, ask any fool, the middle east will always be a place of the gods and of evil and of death. ask any Roman or long dead Englishman only one place can be called a enlighten place its called Israel and i any not into Jews but understand one fact muslim means death for any people not muslim.

  • Matt Pryor

    I thought state recognition was done through the General Assembly, which means that the US has no veto power?

    • Fred Dawes

      Part of the plan to take down the USA And any who get out of line and that also means ISRAEL.

  • http://www.boycottscotland.com Edward

    Right On Ken.

    In the 1950's/1960's M.A.D. stood for Mutual Assured Destruction.

    Now M.A.D. stands for MECCA ASSURED DESTRUCTION, in retaliation of course.

  • Jaladhi

    The problem is Muslims cannot differentiate on their own the difference between good and evil as they are rendered totally brain dead after following Quran all their life. In fact they consider everything that Quran tells them as "good" and holy – examples are murder, rape, looting invading, incest,… , everyhthing that a human being will consider evil and try not to do it . But not Muslims since their "ideal" man Mo/allah practiced all of to a T. There is no solution or compromise with this vile ideology – it has to be eliminated from this planet!!!

  • ObamaYoMoma

    They will never leave Islam unless we seize the oilfields and their oil wealth, render them into abject poverty, and then isolate them. Maybe after several generations of living in total abject poverty it may force enough of them to leave Islam.

  • welldoneson

    Egypt had to "reclose" the border crossing into Gaza, we can only guess why.
    Meanwhile, Gazans refer to a "blockade" and complain about lack of infrastructure,
    yet when Israel ceded Gaza to the "palestinians" the first think the palis did was destroy water desalting plants, greenhouses, even sewage treatment plants.
    That's the mentality Israel is dealing with. Lobotomized by generations of inbreeding,
    poor diet, Islamist propaganda, and hatred of Jews, they've lost the ability to behave rationally. No doubt that's why Egypt closed the crossing; the problem is obvious.

    • Fred Dawes

      the military was killing its own people on orders of the brotherhood of evil.

  • Jim

    what country will supply the neo Islamist if the spring revolution with arms like the Russians did many decades ago?.

  • Fred Dawes

    Did you use the word Principle? and to Lead the USA And its leadership is now in the hands of our enemies and Israel is the target for obama.

  • dr.music

    Slowly and surely the whole planet is waking up to the fact that muslim or Pure muslim is a term for a very very evil person.
    "Women should be exposed to the day light three times in their lives. When they are born, when they are married and when they die." – islamic saying.
    "Our mullah told us that when we carried out our suicide attacks, all the people around us would die, but we would stay alive"
    If muslims could leave islam without being extinguished by other muslims how many muslims would be left on the planet ? Answer : Zero or none. It is only the threat to one's life that keeps islam evil and populated. These scared muslim slaves of invented allah are doomed forever in the dead hands of the madman who invented allah and brought a curse on everything and everyone islam touches. Islam haram. Repeat after me …islam is not halal , islam is haram. Understand?

    • dr.music

      Evil people are a big drain to our planet’s resources like a raging fire. For our planet’s limited resources and our safety we should extinguish each and every fire once we have identified it as evil.
      So in the end what will happen to islam ?
      Will islam just vanish?
      "They said nothing's better than paradise and you can earn that by extinguishing non-believers."
      "They prayed all the time and read the koran so i thought they were good people."

      So When will muslims be allowed to realise that islam is haram ?

      And how will they realise that islam is haram?

      Only when the SUPREME COURTS start questioning the demented koran loudly and in full hearing of the planet will muslims see mohammad’s mad trip. The answer is in and by our SUPREME COURTS in the very end.