Sinai, Syria, and maybe Boston

 Wednesday morning''s news was of two rockets that fell in the outskirts of Eilat. There was no significant damage, but the reminder was clear about the unsettled nature of the Sinai, and the lack of Egyptian control. 

At the same time, rockets also landed across the border in the Jordanian city of Aqaba, most likely from the same source.
Just a week ago, the news told of an Israeli Arab who vacationed in the Sinai despite Israeli government warnings, and came home only after his family paid ransome to the Bedouin who took him captive. 
The front page headline in Yedioth Ahronoth dealt with happenings at the other end of this small country: IDF Commander Benny Gantz warned, "40 years of quiet on the Golan have ended."
Also on the front page was a headline about Boston, "Terror at the Marathon."
All of the above provides the latest lessons about life in the Middle East. To be sure, it is not yet clear that the Boston explosions came from this region, but initial findings are that the bombs resemble to what has been used in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Whether Boston is or is not part of the picture, events in the Sinai and Syria are enough of a reminder that parts of this region, including areas alongside Israel, have turned a corner from tense stability to dangerous chaos.
The Sinai is not the same as Syria, and Boston is not--in the worst case analysis--Afghanistan. However, the multiplicity of armed groups pursuing their own agendas is a common element in the various points of chaos, even while the groups vary in their motives and capacities from place to place.
Israel may be headlined as the common enemy of them all, but such declarations of ritual may not be at the core of the groups'' concerns. Rockets landing on Aqaba as well as Eilat suggest not only problems with aiming their munitions, but that those responsible may be more concerned to cause problems for Egyptians than for Israelis or Jordanians. While they may be Gazans who are using the empty expanse of the Sinai to hide and fire their rockets, it is just as likely that they come from one or another of the Sinai tribes of Bedouin, intent on causing trouble for Egyptian authorities who would interfere with their stealing, commerce in drugs or migrants, smuggling, taking captives for ransom, or whatever else they do.
An Islamist group has claimed credit for the rockets sent to Eilat, and claimed it was linked to the currently popular cause of Palestinian prisoners, but who knows for sure. Egyptian authorities have been reluctant to admit that the rockets came from the Sinai.
Israel cannot do in the Sinai what it does in Gaza or the West Bank when the level of threat goes over its level of tolerance. At attack in the Sinai violates Egyptian sovereignty, even though Egyptian control there is shaky at best, and peace with Egypt is of the highest priority.. 
What is happening in Syria is anybody''s guess. Other than agreeing that the present, near- and not so near future for Syrians is likely to be miserable, observers are unsure about the number, the strength, or the capacities of various groups fighting the troops of the Assad regime and occasionally fighting one another.
Israel has sought to stay out of the fight. It  complains to UN officials charged since the 1973 war with patrolling the no-man''s land along the border, and occasionally responds when--either by intention or not--one or another of the groups fighting on the Syrian part of the Golan fires something in Israel''s direction.
The concern of Israeli security personnel is that chaos in Syria will, at the least, increase tension and create incidents along the Israel-Syria border, affect what happens in Lebanon and increase problems along the Israel-Lebanon border.
As in the Sinai, groups that fire toward Israel may not be signalling their intention to liberate any of the land occupied by Israel for the sake of the Palestinians or anyone else. They may only be trying to score points in the competition between the numerous groups opposing Assad. Or they may not be trying to do anything in connection with Israel, but simply aiming poorly at their adversaries within Syria.
None of this resolves the dispute as to whether Islam is at the heart of a war between civilizations that has its roots in the Middle East. One or another theme in the theology of Islam or the preaching of religious leaders may highlight Israel (along with Christians, Alawis and others) as unbelievers, heretics, or ethnic outsiders who should be eliminated. By no means are all Muslims enemies of Israel and the rest of the West. However, those enemies who are doing the fighting are disproportionately Muslim.
No matter how we try to explain the source of the problem, it has gotten worse since the onset of "Arab spring." While some of the ever hopeful saw that--and may still see it--as the onset of democracy, the reality is something else.
Don''t expect a simple solution. Guesses are that the forces of Bashar al-Assad can maintain control over parts of Syria and keep the rebels from taking charge of the whole country, without being able to defeat the rebels. Neither do observers expect that the Egyptian army or police can establish control over the Sinai, and keep rebellious Bedouin or wandering Gazans from doing what they wish. There are mixed opinions as to whether the Morsi government can regain control over Cairo and the other major cities of Egypt. The Sinai is far away, its people chronically at odds with the center, and not likely to be peaceful in the near future.
We''re still waiting the results of inquiries into the source of those explosions at the Boston Marathon. If it has something to do with Muslim disaffection, it will remind us that conditions in the United States will bear some similarities to the problems noted above, The number of Muslims in the country, the ease of travel by road if not by air, the ability to find places in the homes of friends or relatives, and the continued arrivals and departures of students, tourists, and individuals travelling on business--as well as the government''s reluctance to speak of Islam or Muslims as a problem--get in the way of maintaining security.
We should also remind ourselves that  the number of casualties in the United States due to Muslims has been a fraction of those coming from the violence of Americans who are not Muslims.