I usually don’t try to predict the future or write prognostications, for example for the coming year 2016. But two events in the news caught my attention and set my teeth on edge. The first is the breaking of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and some of its Sunni allies (Bahrein, Sudan, UAE) and Shi’ite Iran.
This came about because of the Saudi execution of the leading Shia cleric in Arabia, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr as well as 46 other Shia. This led to a demonstration in Tehran that not surprisingly got out of control and resulted in the sacking of the Saudi Embassy there. There is no doubt that Iran as leader of the Shia world was trying to see how far it could go in stirring up the Shia minority in Arabia. But, this break might be considered an inevitable result of the current proxy wars that have been going on along the front lines that separate the Sunni and Shia worlds from Lebanon thru Syria, Iraq and as far south as Yemen. There have also been demonstrations of the Shia minority in Pakistan. Make no mistake this could be the harbinger of the major war affecting the whole Middle East, that will make the wars so far in Iraq and Syria look like a side show. Since WWI the fundamental clash between Sunni and Shia has been put on hold while the Arab world pretended to be civilized and even westernized. But now the sabres are being drawn and the likelihood of a fierce, vicious and protracted war is in the offing.
In this war there is no doubt that the US interest lies with Saudi Arabia. But since under Pres. Obama the US has essentially withdrawn from the Middle East and has specifically avoided becoming involved in armed conflict, especially such a historic clash between Muslim enemies, it is not likely that the US will become directly involved, at least not until the next President is elected. On paper, the Sunnis hold a huge numerical advantage, but actually Iran is far better prepared and mobilized for war. It was an axiom of Ayatollah Khomenei’s revolution in 1979 that the Shia must become active and aggressive in attempting to overcome their Sunni enemies. This may be their opportunity. Do you think if push comes to shove the Ayatollahs in Iran will hesitate to begin the rapid development of their nuclear weapons.? This clash is far more important to them than any deal with the US or international powers.
Where does this leave Israel? Actually this is in principle good for Israel. Either Israel will sit on the sidelines and watch its major enemies tear each other apart, or if it looks as if Iran might be getting the upper hand or might be developing a nuclear capability, Israel might be forced to strike, since it is almost certain that Saudi Arabia and its allies are not capable of doing so. Also, the US may not want to take this action, preferring rather to sit it out and become the adjudicator. In which case Israel will be the force to tip the balance in favor of the Sunni. And its reward for this might be a solution from the Sunni side of its relatively minor problem with the Palestinians.
The second piece of important news is the 7% fall of the Chinese stock market, that has put all the world’s markets into a slide. Never mind the incongruity of a stock market in a supposedly Communist country, but the amount of financial loss and the cessation of trading will test the will of the people and its leaders and could lead to a breakdown of the current status quo in China. If not now, it will certainly come in the future, perhaps sooner than we think. So 2016 may be a year fraught with significance.