Shifting Middle East sands

Recent rocket attacks on Israel may be signs of interesting realignments among her enemies.

Israel is under attack in the north and in the south. The geopolitics of the region is in a state of chaotic flux. Future developments are unclear but the factors that will determine them are known.

In the south, dozens of missiles have been fired in the general direction of Ashkelon. As usual, most fell harmlessly in the desert, and many of the better-aimed were deflected by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

What is new and interesting is that the attacks have been launched from both Gaza and the Sinai. Hamas has been at pains to deny responsibility for the Gaza-based attacks, a responsibility claimed by Islamic Jihad. At the same time Hamas has declared that if there is war between Israel and Iran it is none of its business and it will stay neutral. Question: Is Hamas using Islamic Jihad as a surrogate, or is it unable/unwilling to exert control over Islamic Jihad's activities and stop the firing? Evidence suggests the latter.

If the latter, an interesting question emerges - is a terrorist enclave forming within a terrorist state? Might such a development bring into play the ancient adage "the enemy of my enemy is my friend"?

Meanwhile, in the Sinai, in large parts of which the Egyptian government has lost control, the rockets were apparently fired by "Al Qaeda operatives from Libya". Why? Were they contracted by someone? Did they simply decide on their own to traverse all of Egypt in order to fire missiles, perhaps looted from Libyan arsenals, at Israel? Are they under any central discipline, or are they simply using the Al-Qaeda label, as is becoming common in Africa and elsewhere? Who is paying and supplying them?

In the north the situation is equally complicated if less mysterious. The rockets were fired, as usual inaccurately, by Hezbollah, and it was Hezbollah targets that the Israeli Air Force attacked in retaliation. But the situation of Hezbollah is becoming ever-more precarious. Various incidents have indicated growing hostility between Hezbollah, which is Shia, and the Syrian rebels, who are Sunni. Since independence Syria has been ruled by members of the Shia Alawite sect (the heretical nature of which has been conveniently overlooked by the Iranian mullahs for geopolitical reasons).

Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, support the besieged Alawite government of Bashar al-Assad. If it falls, Iran will have lost a most valuable ally, indeed its only ally in the Sunni/Arab world, and Hezbollah will have lost a protector. What then?

What is clear in the Levant and elsewhere in the Muslim world is a resurgence of virulent sectarianism, which will represent both an opportunity and a threat to Israel. Playing factions off against each other is becoming a real possibility. Equally possible is an increase in attacks on Israel, as governments and terrorist movements try to divert attention from growing internal rifts.

Stay tuned to Radio Beirut.

Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and a lecturer at The Israeli National Defense College (MABAL), 2011-2012 session.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on July 12, 2012

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012

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