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Thread: The Middle East Is Nearing an Explosion

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    Default The Middle East Is Nearing an Explosion

    The Middle East Is Nearing an Explosion

    Fear is the one thing preventing it—but could also precipitate it.
    BEIRUT—Lebanon has long been a mirror for the broader Middle East. The region’s more powerful actors use it, variously, as a venue for their proxy wars, an arena in which to play out the Arab-Israeli conflict, and a testing ground for periodic bouts of Saudi-Iranian coexistence. It’s where the region wages its wars and brokers its temporary truces. This past week, like in so many others, the Middle East has not been kind to Lebanon.
    The news came on November 4 in the form of three back-to-back developments in a mere 10 hours. First, Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s prime minister, announced his resignation. That he made the statement from Riyadh told much of the story; that he delivered it with the genuineness of one forced to read his own prison sentence told the rest. The decision was announced by the Lebanese prime minister but it was made in Saudi Arabia. Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto leader, had reason to want it to happen. Saudi-Iranian tensions are rising and bin Salman is determined to depict Tehran as the source of all regional evils. For Hariri to preside over a government that includes Hezbollah fundamentally undercut that core message: It meant allowing one of Riyadh’s closest allies to cooperate with Tehran’s most loyal partner. Hariri as prime minister created the impression that coexistence with Hezbollah and by extension with Iran was possible; his departure is designed to erase any doubt. He was asked to assume the prime ministership a year ago, at a time when the goal was to inoculate Lebanon from Saudi-Iranian rivalry; with him gone, Lebanon now is fully exposed to it. It has joined the camp of Saudi Arabia’s enemies.


    Act two was news that Saudi Arabia had intercepted a missile launched from Yemen and purportedly aimed at Riyadh’s airport. This was not the first missile that the Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group enjoying Iranian and Hezbollah support, had fired at its northern neighbor, but its timing and unprecedented range could make it one of the more consequential. The extent of outside backing to the Houthis is a matter of some debate, though neither U.S. nor Saudi officials harbor any doubt that the dramatic progress in the rebel movement’s ballistic missile program could not have occurred without its two benefactors’ considerable training and help. Like Hariri in his act of self-immolation, Saudi officials quickly and publicly drew a direct line connecting the strike to Iran and Hezbollah; it was, they proclaimed, an act of war for which they held both responsible and to which they would respond.
    Act three was the massive Saudi purge in which over 10 princes and dozens of businessmen and senior officials were put under house arrest. This was bin Salman cleaning house, eliminating any potential competing military, political, economic, or media-related source of power. Combined with earlier moves, this means that he now essentially has gone after every one of the regime’s traditional pillars. Some wonder whether, untested and unseasoned, he might have provoked too many enemies at the same time. What he lacks in experience he more than makes up for in ambition however, and for now he stands precisely in the position he craved: able to do away with years of assumed Saudi passivity and refashion as he sees fit both the Kingdom’s domestic and foreign policies, notably in order to more effectively confront Iran.


    All three developments point in a similar direction: that of an increasingly emboldened and single-minded Saudi leadership eager to work with the U.S. to counter an Iranian threat whose scale it believes was made all the starker by the day’s Yemen-related events.
    Lebanon and the region arguably have seen all this before; a leadership vacuum in the context of rising tensions is nothing new. What is new, however, is an unusually apprehensive Israel, an unusually assertive and rash Saudi leadership and, of course, an unusual U.S. president. As for Israel: For months now, it has been sounding alarm bells about Hezbollah’s and Iran’s growing footprint in Syria, and more particularly about the Lebanese movement’s soon-to-be-acquired capacity to indigenously produce precision-guided missiles—a development Israeli officials view as a potential game changer they must thwart.


    As for the new Saudi leadership: Bin Salman is convinced that Iran for too long has viewed Saudi Arabia as a punching bag, and that Saudi Arabia for too long has obliged. He sees Tehran possessing far less money, military equipment, or powerful international allies than Riyadh, yet nonetheless on the ascent, exerting or expanding control over Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Sanaa. He believes that only by more forcefully and aggressively pushing back—whether in Yemen, Iraq, or Lebanon—can Saudi Arabia and its partners halt Iran and turn the tide. And so far he has shown, from the military misadventure in Yemen to the diplomatic misstep of seeking to isolate Qatar, a stronger propensity for getting into crises than for ending them.
    As for the U.S.: Unpredictable and inconstant in so many ways, President Trump has been consistent in one regard at least, which is a belligerency toward Iran that has become the hallmark of his administration’s Mideast policy. U.S. officials evoke his willingness to take action against Iran to restore the U.S. credibility and deterrence he feels his predecessor (who I advised on Mideast matters) frittered away. In this, his approach appears to be very much of a piece with bin Salman’s: dismissive of diplomatic engagement with Tehran and persuaded of the need to establish a new balance of power, making him less likely to check bin Salman’s instincts than to embolden them.


    Few in Lebanon seem to believe an all-out war is imminent, as all three protagonists have cause for self-restraint. The very reason Israel wishes to forcefully strike Hezbollah is the reason it is inhibited from doing so—namely the prospect of a barrage of missiles on its urban centers. Israel possesses far greater ability to inflict pain, but Hezbollah possesses far greater capacity to absorb it, which means that any large-scale Israeli operation runs the risk of being open-ended. Saudi Arabia lacks the ability to directly challenge Iran militarily and must consider the threat of Iranian retaliation on its soil. And in assessing the option of going after Iran or its allies, the U.S. continues to take account of the proximity of Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia militia to American servicemen and women, and the possibility that they could resume their attacks.
    Yet Lebanese, whether affiliated with Hezbollah or others, also seem persuaded that some form of action has become virtually inescapable. The Houthi missile strike was too reckless, Saudi warnings too pointed, Israeli anxiety too great, and U.S. hostility toward Iran and Hezbollah too pronounced for it to be otherwise. To which one might add a broader list: the Trump administration calling into question the Iranian nuclear deal and considering ramping up sanctions against Tehran, which unnecessarily heightens tensions, coupled with the absence of the kind of regular, high-level contact between the two countries that could de-escalate them. More broadly, for the same reason their adversaries are likely to act, Iran and Hezbollah are likely to react: Both sides may wish to avoid a serious confrontation but neither can afford to show it. The question then becomes whether in this context one side’s limited action and another’s limited reaction can stop there or escalates.
    Missing from this picture is any hint of diplomacy—between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Iran and the U.S., or Saudi Arabia and the Houthi; rather, the region faces a free for all in which the only operative restraint on one’s actions is nervousness over what it might provoke. That’s hardly reassuring. Here in Lebanon, people are uncertain about who might take the first strike; who (of Iran or Hezbollah) might be its target; when or where (in Lebanon, Syria, or Iran) it might occur; and what it might look like. But they sense something will happen. And they fear that this time again, the Lebanese mirror inevitably will shatter.


    https://www.theatlantic.com/internat...utm_source=fbb
    "No need to say more...I, for one, do not care one iota about being politically correct, I do call it as I see it without no fear, and those who get their feeling hurt by such truth I say to them:
    " GO CRY ME A RIVER" "-Beirutilibnani


    The Right To Do Something Does Not Mean It Is Right. (William Safire)

    Every piece of this is man's bullshit. They call this war a cloud over the land. But they made the weather and then they stand in the rain and say 'Shit, it's raining!'

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    Explained Who Wants a War in the Middle East? Seven Key Players and Their Interests
    Practically everyone wants to fight - as long as someone else does the fighting


    Anshel Pfeffer Nov 09, 2017 8:22 AM

    Analysis An ambitious heir and a bitter family feud are shaking up Saudi ArabiaAnalysis Is Saudi Arabia's new crown prince Mohammed bin Salman good news for Israel and U.S.?
    Analysis Mounting tensions in Syria and Gaza throw Israel into a new state of emergency
    A tunnel explodes underneath the Gaza-Israel border, a surprise resignation throws Lebanon into turmoil, a series of upheavals in the Saudi kingdom and the battle against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq winds down – all this is winding up with a new round of saber-rattling between Israel and Iran and its proxies. Talk of war between elements of the Iran-led coalition and the unlikely anti-Iran alliance of Israel and the Saudis is rife, but a plausible scenario for one breaking out much less. Both sides would like to see someone taking on the other, but none of the parties are at present in a situation where it is their interest to do so themselves.
    To really understand the Middle East – subscribe to Haaretz
    Here’s where the parties who want war, just as long as someone else is fighting it, are right now.
    Iran – For the last six-and-a-half years, the Islamic revolutionary leadership in Tehran has invested heavily in propping up the Assad regime in Syria. This support has taken a variety of forms – “military advisers” from Iran’s Quds Force, the deployment of thousands of Hezbollah fighters, frequent airlifts of weapons landing in Damascus airport, the recruitment of tens of thousands of citizens (mainly Afghan refugees) to fight in Shi’ite militias, and at least a billion dollars of credit to allow Assad to remain solvent. None of this was enough to enable the Syrian president’s eventual victory, but it kept him just about afloat until the Russians arrived in September 2015. Now that Assad’s survival has been ensured, Iran is intent on reaping its reward in the shape of mining concessions for valuable minerals, and the rights to build an airbase on Syrian territory and a military port on its Mediterranean coast.

    Israel is both exerting diplomatic pressure and threatening to use military power to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent stronghold in Syria. (This pressure is playing into a power struggle back in Tehran, where rival factions are arguing whether the additional billions that will be needed for building these bases should not go instead to strengthening Iran’s economy at home). Tehran has no interest right now in a war between its proxies and Israel in Syria and Lebanon that would endanger the gains in which it has invested so much. Instead, it would prefer seeing Israel distracted elsewhere and the most convenient place for that to happen would be along Israel’s southern border with the Gaza Strip. A Hamas delegation is currently in Tehran, the second such delegation in a matter of weeks. Hamas and Iran had a falling-out during the Syrian war when Iran was helping the Assad regime butcher hundreds of thousands of Syrian Sunnis, including Hamas’ allies in the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. But now that the war is ending, the ties are being reestablished. Throughout the war, Iran’s support for Hamas’ rivals in Gaza, the more militant Palestinian Islamic Jihad, intensified. Now Iran would be happy for Hamas and PIJ to join forces in provoking some mayhem on the Gaza border, and deflect attention from Syria.
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    Gaza – Iran’s entreaties notwithstanding, Gaza has its own troubles and while Hamas is happy to reestablish ties with Tehran, the movement’s interests currently lie in Cairo, where its reconciliation agreement with Fatah was signed last month. Egypt wants Hamas to keep the peace in Gaza and to make sure the Strip doesn’t serve the ISIS fighters in Sinai as a logistical hub. If there was any doubt, particularly in Israel, that the reconciliation was yet another doomed-to-fail exercise, along came the demolition on October 30 by Israel of a PIJ cross-border attack tunnel, killing at least 14 PIJ and Hamas members underground. In the past, there would have been no question of such an operation ending without some form of retaliation by Hamas and PIJ. But instead, over a week later, we have yet to see any escalation. Hamas has forced PIJ to keep the unofficial truce that has been in force with Israel since the summer of 2014.

    Hamas – The ruling movement in the Strip hasn’t converted to Zionism but the continued closure of Gaza and its worsening economic situation – intensified by the sanctions put in place during the last few months by the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, have led Hamas’ new “prime minister” in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, to the unavoidable conclusion that he must find a way for now of cooperating both with neighboring Egypt and the PA. It was either that or lose any capability of maintaining control in the Strip. Sinwar is a hardliner who sat for many years in Israeli prisons, but he is Gaza-born and understands local politics. Saleh al-Arouri, deputy chief of Hamas’ political bureau, Sinwar’s rival and the leader of the delegations to Tehran, does not have any responsibility for Gaza.
    Hamas isn’t giving up its rocket arsenal or tunnel network in the Strip, but it urgently needs to ease humanitarian conditions there and the only way of doing so is by means of an alliance with Egypt and an uneasy rapprochement with the PA. Another round of destructive warfare with Israel will jeopardize the agreement and Sinwar, for now, won’t let that happen and is meanwhile preventing PIJ from retaliating. No matter what Iran wants.


    Egypt – Not too long ago, Egypt would have been counted as the major Arab element in the regional anti-Iran coalition. But its ongoing political and economic weakness has forced it to curb its wider designs and focus mainly on skirmishing with ISIS in Sinai, where a few hundred of the militant organization's fighters are still tying up a large part of Egypt's huge and well-equipped army. Egypt is probably the only nation that is about to lose out due to the elimination of the ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria. The remnants of ISIS are now relocating to neighboring Libya and the organization may focus more of its remaining resources on Sinai. It would have been happy to see others carrying on the wars further afield, while focusing on affairs closer to home. Like Gaza, for example.
    Effectively, Egypt has abdicated its historic mission to lead the Arab Sunni camp, leaving the Saudis in charge.

    Saudi Arabia – The last few days’ events in Riyadh have astonished veteran watchers of the House of Saud. Multiple arrests over allegations of corruption of once-senior officials, including a number of royal princes; appointments to key positions of men close to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (aka MBS); a mysterious helicopter crash; and the summoning of Saudi clients such as Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who chose on Saturday to announce his resignation from Riyadh, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – all this has pundits trying to work out a common motive, aside from just another move by MBS to consolidate his grip over the kingdom.
    One popular theory regarding Hariri’s resignation is that he fled to Riyadh, or was ordered there, so he would not be implicated in an impending military attack by Israel on Lebanon, with Saudi backing, or an attack on Iran’s main proxy in Beirut, Hezbollah. The fact that Hezbollah has been accused of an assassination attempt on Hariri strengthened this theory. The Saudis would certainly love to have their Iranian rivals punished at this point, in some way or another, and Hezbollah would be a good target. The regime in Riyadh is in no position to launch a war itself against Iran. For the last two-and-a-half years, the Saudis have been engaging in a war against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, which has been so unsuccessful that on Friday night, the Houthis were capable of taunting the Saudis by firing a ballistic missile at Riyadh airport. The Saudis are unlikely to risk a cross-Gulf offensive with the much more powerful Iranians. Especially when MBS is so busy with internal politics. But will Hezbollah respond in any way to the accusations?

    Hezbollah – After fighting for over six years in Syria as Iran’s vanguard, Hezbollah can credit itself with some impressive victories and has accumulated major experience – both in the use of advanced weaponry, and in the command and control of military formations as large as brigade-size units. But they have lost at least 800 men in the fighting and thousands more have been wounded – totalling about one-quarter of Hezbollah’s original force at the start of the war. Thousands of new conscripts have been trained and sent to Syria but while this has widened the ranks, it has also fed resentment back home in Lebanon where many, including some within the Shi’a community, feel that Hezbollah has long ago ceased to serve as a Lebanese “resistance” force and is now holding the country hostage, in the service of Iran.
    Militarily, Hezbollah is in no condition to launch an attack on Israel. It is still fighting in a number of locations in Syria and has to rebuild its units before embarking on a new war. Eighteen months after the death of its military commander, Mustafa Badreddine – almost certainly an assassination carried out by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, at Iran’s urging – a replacement has yet to be announced. Nasrallah has lost the standing he enjoyed in the Arab world following the Second Lebanon War in 2006. He’s no longer seen as the plucky resistance fighter, but rather as the murderer of Syrian resistance fighters. Another war with Israel, with the prospect of rehabilitating his image, may seem tempting, but Nasrallah is aware that his men are not ready and that a devastating response by Israel, targeting Lebanese civilian infrastructure, may actually yield the opposite result, with him being blamed by the Lebanese for yet more suffering. But if Hezbollah is in such a vulnerable position, could Israel be tempted to take advantage of it?

    Israel – One thing is almost certain: Even if Hariri and the Saudis thought that an Israeli attack on Lebanon is imminent, it won’t be happening in the next couple of weeks. Israel is currently hosting the largest international military exercise ever to take place in the country, with seven foreign air forces from three continents participating. This is a show of military diplomacy that has been over a year in the planning and the Israel Air Force has little time right now for anything else. War won’t start at least until the end of the month and by then tensions may have died down elsewhere.
    For now, however, Israel is interested in keeping the calm around Gaza: Its new underground defense system against Hamas and PIJ attack tunnels is still being deployed and won’t be fully operational for another 12 months. Besides, Israel doesn’t want to interfere with Egypt’s attempts to try and pacify the Strip. The situation with Hezbollah along Israel's northern border is more complex. Israel has been regularly attacking Syrian targets, usually Hezbollah convoys trying to smuggle advanced weapons back to Lebanon, or military research facilities. Syria has tried a number of times recently to fire rather ineffective missiles at Israeli planes, but beyond that there has been no response from the Assad regime or from Hezbollah. There are some voices in the Israeli security establishment that are in favor of a preemptive strike against Hezbollah’s rocket positions in Lebanon at the present time, but they are in a minority.
    Benjamin Netanyahu, for all his anti-Iranian rhetoric, is loath to expand hostilities with Iran’s main proxy, beyond surgical pinpoint attacks. The lessons of 2006 are still fresh in the minds of Israeli military planners, and anyway Netanyahu is much more risk-averse than his belligerent image and has never been a fan of wide-scale operations that necessitate mobilizing the entire army. He would of course be more than happy to see someone else take Iran head-on – like the Americans, for example – but while there has been no lack of anti-Iran rhetoric from the Trump administration either, there doesn’t seem to be an appetite for going beyond a war of words in Washington.
    Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said at Chatham House in London Monday that the leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt had all urged President Barack Obama to bomb Iran early on in his term. But none of them tried to do it themselves. That still seems to be the situation.







    https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/1.821488
    "No need to say more...I, for one, do not care one iota about being politically correct, I do call it as I see it without no fear, and those who get their feeling hurt by such truth I say to them:
    " GO CRY ME A RIVER" "-Beirutilibnani


    The Right To Do Something Does Not Mean It Is Right. (William Safire)

    Every piece of this is man's bullshit. They call this war a cloud over the land. But they made the weather and then they stand in the rain and say 'Shit, it's raining!'

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