What's the future of this region?
No one in their right mind has a convincing answer.
What had been major players, or at least rich countries with lots of oil, i.e., Syria (without much oil), Iraq and Libya (with lots of it) are no more. They've all gone the way of Arab Spring, despite that Nobel winning speech by Barack Obama and the loud applause from Thomas Friedman and many others.
Afghanistan never was a functioning country, and shows no sign of joining the club.
Those of you who think about the Middle East should focus on the major players. They are, in alphabetical order, and within the region, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. From outside the region, also in alphabetical order, Russia and the United States.
Some would add Britain, China, France, Germany, and Japan.
None of them counts for much with respect to the Middle East, except by the way of noise and going along with either Russia or the US.
Alphabetical order is best for listing the players, insofar as there is no end to the arguments as to who determines what, and which is more or less important with respect to one or another issue.
At times it seems that everyone is against Iran, except for Russia and to some extent the United States. Yet the US is the "great Satan" among Iranians, so its status isn't all that clear.
Remember Tonto. He described his antagonists as "speaking with forked tongues." He could have been talking about the national leaders of the Middle East, along with Russia and the US. It requires the powers of a seer to explain what they are saying. And who in their right minds believes someone who claims to know the unknowable.
Pick your issue.
The fighting in Syria and Iraq has a number of participants, but defies description to indicate who is against who. It's easiest to say that its everybody against everyone else. That seems to be the case at least part of the time, but it's hard to believe that Iran, Saudi Arabia, the US and Russia, with a few hangers on from Western Europe are devoting money, munitions, and personnel for something that is totally disorganized. But maybe they are.
Libya, Lebanon, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria, and maybe Pakistan aren't all that much different from Syria and Iraq, except that Nigeria and Pakistan beg the definition of being part of the Middle East. Both are bothered by Islamic extremists claiming affiliation with IS and/or al Qaida, so that allows entry to this conversation.
Barack Obama is assured of Congressional approval of his deal with Iran. He and his Secretary of State are leading the chorus praising the agreement as the best achievable, but its hard to find someone--even those supporting it from outside the White House--making a credible argument that the deal covers the important issues, including Iran's support for terror, and that Iran is likely to comply.
The New York Times has a sad story of US efforts to train a force fighting in Syria. A lot is classified, and the article cannot tell eveyrthing. What it includes, however, suggests that we should not expect more from US military efforts in a setting the Americans do not seem to understand than we should expect US salvation from Iranian enmity. For a disturbing article, click here.
All of the above makes a mockery of what Israelis have been hearing since their beginning, i.e., that the Middle East is the home region of Islam, and that the Zionists are interlopers without a claim.
There isn't a Muslim country with anything like a firm mandate on its own territory, much less what can be called a unity of faith. Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia are hodge podges of different ethnic groups and different kinds of Muslims, more likely to be battling one another than all praying in the same Mosque. Syria and Iraq were held together in years past by powerful dictators,
One can muse if Barack Obama did to Syria with a speech and the onset of Arab Spring what George W. Bush did to Iraq with his army.
If Palestinians assert that their own misery is a uniting force among their Muslim brethren, no one else appears to be listening. Except, perhaps, for lip service that is not accepted outside of the White House, some European capitals, and the United Nations.
Mahmoud Abbas' latest tantrum is threatening to cancel the Oslo accords. He may well be tired of his job, still held despite his term having expired in January 2009. Perhaps he thinks that without him, Palestine has no future. A friend should remind him that cemeteries of filled with irreplaceable people. Also, that canceling all agreements with Israel is likely to bring more problems than opportunities for his people, including for a businessman son who has done well in Dad's regime.
Money from Saudi Arabia and the energy-rich Gulf States has gotten to one or another group fighting in Syria and elsewhere, along with individuals who seek adventure or justification by participating in the warfare. Yet when Europeans ask those sources of the chaos (all of which are heavy users of foreign workers) to accept some of the refugees, the response does not come.
What's an appropriate Israeli answer to all of the above?
A strong dose of whimsy or cynicism, along with a sense of humor (perhaps black humor that sees light in the gore) is essential for personal survival. And more pragmatically, a willingness not to look too closely at how the Israeli government deals with threats and opportunities. As good citizens, we shouldn't expect full disclosure of all the deals, most likely not reduced to paper, allowing some fudging by all partners. How we cooperate with Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Palestinians, Kurds, and who knows who else may serve as great stories for writers of fiction. Bits of believable information about what is happening may come out from those obsessed with telling secrets and writing their memoirs while in retirement.
What to believe?
That's as elusive as trying to describe what is happening--and what is likely to happen--in the Middle East.