Most people consider the new Middle-East a more stable region compared to that of the 1980’s and 1990’s. The changes in the balance of power in this geography have probably been the most significant developments of the last decade. However, it is likely that to this day the region remains as volatile as it was in the past, as claims one professor at the University of California at Berkeley. “Within the last nine years there has been an undeniable restructuring in the state of affairs of the Arab East, but the extent to which these changes have brought progress is difficult to evaluate… There still remains a Hegemonic Nuclear Israel surrounded by non-nuclear antagonistic Arab states”.
To suggest that the situation today is superior to that of ten years ago would be of little value, without investigating the Middle-East conflicts of 2006-2008. For that purpose I present a précis of where the world was headed almost a decade ago.
As the ‘War on Terror’ raged on it became evident that Iraq would not escape civil war. Former President of the United States of America George.W.Bush made one last attempt to stabilize the situation with an added 30,000 troops, raising the levels to 160,000. Unfortunately, the anarchy continued and the Americans remained unwilling to accept that their strategy of intervention had failed. No WMDs were ever found.
The end of the war correlated with the end of the Republican term in the White House and the beginning of the First woman President of the United States’ term, President Hillary Rodham Clinton. Furthermore, in 2006 the Israel-Lebanon conflict had left Israel reeling from its poor performance against Hezbollah. The country suffered further diplomatically when the President was put on open trial for allegations of sexual wrongdoing and ethical misconduct (a first in Israeli history).
In Lebanon civil strife had begun, the political party Hezbollah openly challenged the democratically elected government. The government remained defiant despite paralyzing strikes and the country continued to recover from damage done during the Israeli-Lebanese air-strikes.
In Palestine serious conflict broke out between the Hamas group (legitimately elected) and the Fattah group. The EU was keen to play an important role, and former President Jimmy Carter (Nobel Prize laureate) released the critically acclaimed book ‘Peace not Apartheid’, a significant stepping stone on the way to resolving the Palestinian conflict. The book later became a voice for the Palestinians in the international forum.
Today little remains the same. It wasn’t soon after Iran tried to develop its nuclear potential that the United States and its allies moved in to redraw the map of the Middle-East. In Clinton’s first year as president we saw the reorganization of the Iraqi state in to 3 sub-divisions, namely New Iraq, Greater Baghdad and Kurdistan. The divisions were made according to religious sects; the Sunnis hold majority in New Iraq and the Shias in Greater Baghdad, while the Kurds are the majority in Kurdistan. Many Middle-East analysts argue that this separation was unneeded as the violence almost completely came to an end with the withdrawal of the coalition forces. Today the three states share a common foreign policy and defensive strategy but have independent democratically elected rulers present. Today more visits are made by Greater Baghdad government officials to Iran, than to its neighboring country New Iraq. Today we see more segregation than ever before. “Ask the common man and he will tell you that even Saddam Hussein’s regime was better than this” says Middle-East analyst Riz Khan from the Al-Jazeerah network. Mr. Khan strongly believes that the Iraqis don’t actually like the state division but are apathetic towards it, as what they remember from before the division was much worse. At the least we must acknowledge that the Iraqi state federation is no longer in the shape it was in 2006.
Moving further west we have the second Israeli-Lebanese conflict in ten years. The Israeli government attacked the southern border of Lebanon in June 2009. It claimed its legitimacy over this attack as a hunt for terrorist organizations creating unrest in Tel Aviv.
Initially, Lebanon was carved out by the British in its de-colonization period. Since then there has been perpetual conflict between the two countries. This was the third attempt by Israel in the occupation of Lebanon’s southern territories and finally one that seems permanent. Greater Israel today comprises of territories once considered a large portion of Lebanon. 7 years after the conflict came to an end and no significant terrorist groups were uncovered, 30,000 Israeli troops still remain in the southern region bordering what remains of Lebanon today.
The greatest celebration in the Middle-East lay with the long awaited independence of Palestine, finally recognized by Israel. Some say that this had to do with mounting pressure from the EU. Others say it was because Israel had then recently captured significant Lebanese territory and felt it must give up one to gain the other permanently. Today the Palestinians share a legitimate seat in the U.N and although they celebrated independence officially in late 2009 there is still recognizable Israeli influence in respect to the military and administration, not allowing significant anti-Israeli elements to enter the Palestinian government.
Israel has undoubtedly been the largest cause of change in the Middle-East in the last decade. It was Israel that finally headed the anti-Iran military campaign. Although not done at ground level, it was Israeli pilots that were marked for actually having bombed the Iranian Nuclear Reactors. The unrest that followed was probably the worst to date and there is no doubt that today Iran is considered a member of the Axis of Evil ‘neutralized’ by the West. The Iranians on the other hand, will not forget this ‘injustice’ that easily, as their nuclear aims did not violate the rules and regulations of the NPT or the IAEA. We can rest assured that the passivity of the Iranians today will not last. Iran has had its Nuclear program completely dismantled and is going through the vestiges of the stringent U.N sanctions that have lasted almost six complete years.
Has the Middle-East become more stable in the last decade? The answer to that question lies in rather indirect factual information. Firstly, the United States enjoys a strong military base in the United Arab Emirates. A document was declassified last year claiming that they have a well-secured and stable energy policy in place. Secondly, Israel significantly dominates the region with no close competition. It seems Iran will never successfully develop a nuclear energy program as it has been classified as a rogue state. Thus by linking the causes to the initial instability in the region we can conclude that today there is little threat of war. A success in the form of Palestinian independence pacifies others that may have been a threat to peace. However, there is still no balance of power. Perhaps it is not possible to attain balance in the world’s most volatile region. “It won’t be soon till the Iranians retaliate, and then the Lebanese soon after that” says Riz Khan. “It’s only a matter of time”.
Eman Niazi FY