“... While some experts somewhat smugly call the Syrian civil war, “Iran’s Vietnam”, more are concerned with the already dramatic effects on neighboring countries. “It has accelerated Iraq’s move toward Iran and in the process relit the civil war there,” notes one veteran US analyst. There are competing views as to whether Lebanon or Jordan is more endangered by the “spillover.” Both have long had a precarious political balance in their political make-up. But with Hezbollah throwing much of its weight onto the side of the Syrian government, some believe it is only a matter of time before the balance is overturned.
Jordan is now bearing an economically unacceptable number of refugees, many poor and unskilled, causing resentment among the working classes in that country long split between the “traditional “East Bankers and the relative newcomers – the Palestinians – who, by all accounts constitute a majority of the population. King Abduallah gets mixed reviews for handling the situation. But the consensus is that he lacks the touch of his late father, King Hussein.
Even amongst more secure neighbors, such as Israel and Turkey, the shock is felt daily. Turkey’s President Erdogan, has long pressed for the ouster of Bashar Assad... while Erdogan’s rhetoric towards Assad has been harsh, given the ethnic (read: Kurds) as well as public opinion constraints, he is loathe to act unilaterally. While Israel has neither the ethnic nor public opinion constraints, which has allowed them to strike at will militarily [Most recently at an arms depot purportedly containing long range missiles destined for Hezbollah], senior Israeli officials are still wary of getting too close to the chaos that characterize the uproar in the Middle East in general and the chaos that is Syria specifically. As one well-placed Israeli put it, “No one here knows how to deal with the Arab Spring. It’s best we hide until it’s over.”..., ..., ...,
Egypt, with the region’s largest population and putative leader of the Arab world, run by an increasingly authoritarian Moslem Brotherhood, wealthy Gulf countries (notably Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) are getting jittery. Like the Administration, they see the “Brothers” stocking key posts with party faithful, unqualified for their roles. A case in point, notes one long time observer, “The technocrats necessary to negotiate with bodies like the IMF have long since fled the country.” Veteran US experts believe that the Moslem Brotherhood, after so many decades in the political wilderness, is determined, above all else, not to lose power. Still, Administration officials and even the Israelis have been reassured by Cairo’s adherence to, what, after all is the cornerstone of US Middle East Policy – The Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty.
The moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process, however, is a different story. Secretary of State Kerry is attempting to breathe new life into it. So far, he has had numerous meetings with key Israeli and Arab leaders [Often one-on-one, to the chagrin of veteran State Department officials]. While there is some expectation that talks could begin again in the not-too-distant future, few believe, considering the lack of leadership on the ground and the lack of interest in the White House, that Kerry will get very far with his efforts.
But many believe that a vigorous Administration role in Arab-Israeli peacemaking is crucial to boost the sagging image of the US throughout the region. While President Obama did himself a world of good by his visit to Israel [Certainly among the Israelis, some of whom sheepishly admit that their previous coolness towards him may have been racially motivated], he still faces the challenge of a nuclear armed Iran... As one key State Department official put it this week, “First we have to wait out the Iranian election results next month; followed by the inauguration of the new President and then in September we have our annual “UNGA” (United Nations General Assembly] bash.”
But US officials admit that it is Iran that will set the time table for action – if there is to be any. “So far, they have been very clever,” says one Administration official. “They have been careful not to do anything that would allow for a mad dash towards producing a weapon. They take one step back for every two steps forward.”