The looming stormclouds over the Middle East


What makes the Palestinian move interesting is that it fizzled. What their leaders expected to be a mass uprising and confrontation with Israel, probably intended to force Obama to cancel his trip, never came to pass. At the same time, as the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt tried to stop smuggling into Gaza by flooding the smuggling tunnels with sewage, the smugglers found a way to keep the tunnels clear. Yet the Brotherhood sent a clear message to Hamas: No weapons smuggling to Gaza; “Egypt will not tolerate being dragged into a war with Israel, because it is not in the interest of the Egyptian people at this time.”


But the Palestinians were also present in Syria, where growing numbers of Palestinians living in Southern Lebanon are joining the ranks of the rebels against the Assad regime. Yet Abbas denies Palestinian Authority involvement in Syria, thus leaving only one of two options: Either Abbas is lying, or he no longer has control over the Palestinians living outside the West Bank. Whatever option you take, it doesn't make Abbas a reliable partner for Peace negotiations.


In America, President Obama met with a number of leaders of the American Jewish community and sent a clear message: Peace is preferable, but the prospects for it look bleak. An Administration which has over the years consistently maintain the line of bringing Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiation table to achieve a Two-State solution, is apparently giving up on a negotiated solution for the time being. Or maybe the Palestinian issue is receding to lower priorities in the American government's agenda.


Iran continues to play the west like a violin, participating in protracted negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program leading nowhere and giving Ahmadinejad additional time to put in place their brand new couple of hundred centrifuges, thus bringing the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran closer. In the meantime, Iran's main nuclear partner, North Korea, is making nasty noises against their neighbors to the south, prompting mobilization of the South Korea army and worry in Washington.


In Israel, in a surprise move, it seems that Netanyahu made an offer to Lapid (leader of the Yesh Atid Party) that might lure him away from Bennett (leader of HaBayit HaYehudi). If he indeed succeeds, he might be able to put together a coalition in which he, Netanyahu, will remain the main moderator, pushing Bennett to either a secondary position in the new coalition or leaving him completely out of it. This would allow Netanyahu to maybe keep his ultra orthodox nationalist partners in. Should he succeed (something that in Israeli politics is anything but sure), he could keep the legislation to force the Ultra Orthodox to serve in the army or maybe keep the financial benefits for Yeshiva students or maybe both.


While all this is happening, the American Congress, in an unusual bipartisan initiative, is trying to pass legislation giving Israel the legal status of a special ally (something no other nation enjoys) and proclaiming American support for Israel's right to strike Iran in self-defense.


While all this looks like disjointed and isolated pieces of information, I believe that they point in a clear direction regarding the near future of the Middle East.


One trend that appears evident to me in these snippets is that the Palestinian issue is fading into the background, not only on the American agenda, but in the Arab agenda as well. The reason for this is the growing fear in the Arab world of a nuclear-armed Iran. Iran would not hesitate to use its nuclear muscles to force policy changes in the Arab world and/or impose its own brand of Islam and gain control of the Holy sites of Mecca and Media (directly or indirectly).


The recent kidnapping of UN soldiers on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights and the exodus of more to the Israeli side running away from Syrian rebel forces might be the consequence of the growing desperation of both, the rebel forces as well as their Palestinian allies in response to a growing focus of world's attention away from them.


Another trend I see is America and Europe sending clear signals that the window for a negotiated deal with Iran is closing, and while the West is reluctant to intervene, they don't seem reluctant to allow the Israelis to intervene and maybe pay the price for their years of procrastinating. And Israel, as the country most directly threatened by the Ayatollahs' regime, might be forced to do it.


This scenario might help to explain why Netanyahu is trying very hard to create a very broad based coalition which will give him the necessary political strength to act against Iran and to ignore pressures to negotiate with Abbas. If he succeeds, however, in bringing both Lapid's party and the ultra orthodox Shas into the coalition, he will pay a steep political price. The Israeli voters demanded change in the special status of ultra orthodox in Israel, and with this move, Netanyahu would tell Israelis that that particular item in the political agenda is put on hold. This would make a lot of sense if Netanyahu believes that the confrontation with Iran is not just a distinct probability but a looming certainty. This would also explain the move of a Congress - divided in everything else including the resolution of the Fiscal situation – in supporting an Israeli move against Iran.


In a nutshell, it looks like the West is coalescing around an agenda of possible military intervention in Iran, an intervention which will include Israeli participation.


I know all of the above is speculation, and many factors could change the direction of events. I cannot, however, forget that popular saying that “Democracies eventually do the right thing after they have tried everything else”. The Western world tried very hard and consistently to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, but it looks to me that at this point the clock is ticking and negotiations are reaching the end of the rope.


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