Out of the mist and murk of the Middle East since the inception of the so-called "Arab Spring" more than two years ago, there are signs that a new strategic balance may be emerging in the region. This realignment process is made up of various elements, some of which we have emphasized in previous columns:
- Withdrawal of the US military presence in Iraq and the pending withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan.
- European neglect of the region and general withdrawal within itself to try to reverse its long-standing economic and financial decline.
- Discovery and incipient production of vast reserves of natural gas in Israeli waters.
- Gradual emergence of an autonomous, if not independent, Kurdistan, marking the formation of a new political entity in the Middle East, covering twenty to forty million people, depending on whether it is limited to Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan, or whether it will eventually cover also the Kurdish regions of Turkey and perhaps Iran.
- Increasing military, security and intelligence cooperation between Israel and the new military-controlled government in Egypt. Egyptian closure of the border with Gaza.
- Replacement of the Emir of Qatar by his son, due to Saudi pressure. The possibility of a visit by a Qatari prince to Israel to discuss economic and technological cooperation. Reports that the reopening of the Israeli trade office in Doha is imminent.
- Turkish preoccupation with domestic problems, especially growing opposition to the Erdogan government by Kemalist secularists, the Alevis, the Kurds and the Gulenists. End of Erdogan's dream of the creation of a neo- Ottoman overlordship in the region.
- Realization by Saudi Arabia and the gulf states that they cannot count on the United States to provide protective cover in case Iran succeeds in creating a nuclear arsenal, nor on a distant Russia, but paradoxically, on Israel and only on Israel.
Among other things, what this all means is that the Israeli-Palestinian talks so dear to the hearts of Obama and Kerry, are less than a sidshow. They are totally irrelevant to the important developments in the region. Put otherwise, no-one cares. It is pure political theater, and a farce at that.
Much more significant is that the emerging strategic realignment may also mean that Syria/Lebanon also become a sideshow; more political theater, except in this case a tragedy rather than a farce. Lebanon and Syria, like Iraq, will be paralyzed by the ferocious conflict between Sunni and Sh'ia.
For Israel, the situation, barring accident, unforeseen events and/or sheer political stupidity is evolving in a most favorable manner. That, coupled with the new government's willingness to take on serious domestic reforms, bodes well for the future. However, as the scorpion said to the frog which he stung as he was being carried across the Suez Canal, thereby assuring that would both die: "This is the Middle East.".
A Positive Development in Europe
Amidst the growing Islamification of a good deal of Europe, and the reemergence of anti-Semitism, it is good to be able to point to a positive development of symbolic importance. At the urgings of the Portuguese Institute of Democracy, the National Assembly of that country; the origin of many Sephardic Jews, including major figures in religion, philosophy and business, has revoked the decree of 1496 expelling those Jews who refused to convert to Christianity and has declared a form of "right of return". Any Jew who can show that his ancestors were expelled from Portugal at the end of the fifteenth century, can apply to have his Portuguese citizenship restored.
The Honorary Chairman of the institute is the current pretender to the Portuguese throne, Dom Duarte, Duke of Braganza. Dom Duarte apologized for the actions of the Portuguese royal house at the time of the expulsion in a speech in a major New York synagogue. The Portuguese royal house was responsible for the policy of granting visas to Jewish refugees during World War II and for protecting an historic and beautiful Amsterdam synagogue, which belonged to the Braganza family foundation, from the Nazis. His vineyards produce the only kosher wine made in Portugal.
To take attention away from farces like the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, it would be delightful if the Duke were to visit Israel. Many dismiss "symbolic" gestures as being of no importance, but that is not true. It was a symbolic gesture when president Ronald Reagan pointed to the Berlin Wall and said "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!". Not long after the wall was torn down. Could it be that the gesture of a small country, once the center of a great empire, may signal that the process of European anti-israeli actions and rhetoric has reached its point of inflection? We may hope so.
Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and a researcher at the Center for National Security Studies, University of Haifa.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on August 18, 2013
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013