Where is the Middle East Headed?

I attended the inaugural conference of the Rubin Center at the Inter-disciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya on “Regime Collapse and Sectarian War: where is the Middle East headed?”  The Center, formely the Gloria Center, was renamed in honor of Prof. Barry Rubin, its founder and Head who died several months ago.  The new Director of the Rubin Center, Dr. Jonathan Spyer, chaired the Conference and introduced the distinguished speakers.  The first three speakers, Prof. Uriel Reichman, President of the IDC, Prof. Boaz Ganor, Dean of Lauder School of Govt. , IDC, and Mrs. Judith Colp Rubin, Barry’s widow, delivered eulogies about Barry Rubin.

The Conf. consisted of two Symposia, the first was on “The New Middle East: fragmentation, sectarianism and new power blocs.”   Amb. Dore Gold, Former Israeli Amb. to the UN and political advisor to PM Netanyahu, spoke on “The Iranian nuclear threat.”  Much has been written and said about this topic recently.  Amb. Gold quoted from IAEA Reports that have often been over-looked and that indicated that the Parchin nuclear site should be subject to inspection, but it has not been inspected since 2005.  He pointed out that the Iran-Iraq border hardly exists and that ca. 1 million Shia pilgrims went from Iran to Iraq for the Ashura festival at Kerbala and Najjaf, so that Shia Iraq is now in effect a colony of Iran and further, imperial Iran has moved to take over Shia (Houthis) Yemen, so that they may control the Bab al Mandab gateway into the Red Sea as well as the Straits of Hormuz of the Persian Gulf.   Amb. Gold quoted Henry Kissinger, that there is no “code of conduct” with the Islamic states as there was with the Soviets, and they cannot be trusted to keep their agreements.

Dr. Martin Kramer, President of Shalem College, Jerusalem, spoke on “US policy and its implications for the region,” and pointed out that Pres. Obama has essentially a leftist third-world view of the Middle East as exemplified by his Cairo speech of 2009, in which he blamed America for the anti-Americanism in the Muslim world.   After the Iraq war he ruled out the use of force to solve problems in the Middle East and emphasised disengagement.  But, this is a serious problem because everyone else is in fact using military violence to solve their problems.   Dr. Kramer also sees the involvement of American “realists” on the Middle East, that together with the leftist idealogues tend to produce inconsistent and unreliable policies.

Fiamma Nirenstein, an Italian journalist, former member of the Italian Parliament and well-known supporter of Israel spoke about “Europe and the changing Middle East.”  Her analysis was simple, everything in Europe is upside down; they see the Muslim extremist forces, such as Hamas and Hizbollah, as natural movements, but the national forces, such as Israel, as illegitimate.  They reject the use of force, but only on one side and they believe that negotiations can solve all problems. Europe is tired and has no central foreign policy.

Prof. Efraim Inbar, Director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University spoke on ‘Implications for Israel in a transformed Middle East.”   He pointed out that there is no serious Arab military threat against Israel, the armies of Syria, Iraq and Egypt are shadows of their former selves, and the terrorist organizations, Hamas and Hizbollah have not yet reached the level of a serious military threat.  This gives Israel greater freedom of action, but we should not be tempted to over-reach ourselves.  Iran is the greatest threat not only because of its nuclearization, but because of its imperial ambitions.  Currently Iran’s strategy is to establish a military platform against Israel in the northern Golan with Syrian and Hizbollah forces.  Israel must pre-empt this, but there is a great degree of uncertainly with sub-state actors who are highly motivated.  Furthermore, it is estimated that Hizbollah now have up to 100,000 (!) missiles in their arsenal, from Lebanon into northern Syria.  Also, the Eastern Mediterranean has become an Islamist lake, with Turkey now in effect an Islamist state, IS preparing to invade Europe from Libya and the Sinai in turmoil, not to mention Lebanon and Syria hardly existing.  The only way to stop Iran is by military force and the US is certainly not going to do this.

In the afternoon session, “Islam against the State” three speakers covered the situation on the ground in Syria and Iraq in greater detail.  Aymenn Jawad al Tamimi, Rubin Fellow, spoke about “Shia militias in Syria and Iraq,” Dr. Ely Karmon, Inst., for Counter-terrorism, IDC, spoke about “Hizbollah and the conflict in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq,” and Prof. Amatzia Baram, Dept of ME Studies, Haifa University, spoke on “ISIS, Iraq and the Sunni militias.”   What came over most forcefully from these talks was the sheer number of militias, over 50 throughout the region, each with their own particular emphasis on ethnic, sectarian or national allegiances.   Now that the genie is out of the bottle, it will be impossible to put it back and the future of the Middle East, particularly former Syria and Iraq, will be a long-term conflict between these militias, with Iran behind the Shia militias and IS behind the Sunni militias.  The US has already lost Iraq to Iran.

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