By CLAUDE SALHANI (Editor, Middle East Times)Published: March 02, 2009
A senior high-ranking foreign diplomat who is well acquainted with the Middle East said Friday in Washington that “a major regional war is not inconceivable.”
Although war in the Middle East is not imminent, the risk of a generalized regional conflagration nevertheless persists. Among the fuses that could ignite the next fire is the continued lack of progress with the all-but-dead peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis, and what many Arab leaders consider to be Iran’s interference in Arab affairs.
As one Lebanese official who asked not to be named pointed out, Iran is like an octopus with its tentacles touching every aspect of the multitude of problems plaguing the Middle East today.
Indeed, if U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration is unable to revive the Middle East peace talks and to convince the parties concerned to move toward a settlement of the crisis, the ‘natural’ reaction could be another large-scale regional war. A war that could be precipitated by an attack on Iran by Israel, or an attack by Hezbollah on Israel.
Speaking off the record at a conference in Washington last week the diplomat said he feared that stagnation in the peace talks brought about by mounting extremism in the Middle East risks taking the entire region down a rather perilous road. An extremism that is equally visible on the Arab as well as on the Israeli side.
(HH here: other than the lip service above to the concept of Israel as an aggressor this article is pretty well balanced and actually seems to seek solutions instead of total victory for Arabs.)
It is clear that while the question of Palestine remains at the core of the Middle East’s problems, other sub-conflicts now command equal attention.
Far more worrisome is that the real estate dispute has turned into a conflict driven by religious fervor propelled by the Iranian Islamic revolution. For the first time since its inception 30 years ago the Iranians are finally starting to see some success in their efforts to bridge the Sunni-Shiite schism.
Close cooperation has been established between Iran and Sunni jihadist groups now settled in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, turning Lebanon into a microcosm of the many problems affecting the region today, and which have become inseparable.
That is easier said than done. Iran’s meddling in the Arab-Israeli dispute further complicates an already complex series of conflicts. There used to be one conflict in Palestine, there are now two: one involving Hamas and the other the Palestinian Authority. There used to be one conflict between the Arabs and Israel, there are now several: there is an Israeli-Syrian dispute, an Israeli-Lebanese dispute and an Israeli-Hezbollah dispute. There is now also an Israeli-Iranian dispute.
Can each of these conflicts be solved independently of the others? There are two schools of thought. A number of observers think it would be impossible to try and solve any one of these issues independently. Other observers say, all these different issues need to be addressed simultaneously.
Rendering negotiations even more tedious is that most of the groups in conflict with Israel today refuse to hold direct talks with the Jewish state. Hamas, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Hezbollah refuse to engage Israel in direct talks, insisting instead on having negotiations with Israel conducted through third parties.
The bottom line here is that the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East has changed – and it would be safe to add, not for the better.
There was quasi unanimity among a number of senior diplomats, current and former U.S. State Department officials and leading experts on Lebanese affairs attending a conference in Washington last week that the new danger posed to the region is now clearly emanating from the Islamic Republic.
What makes this situation so much more volatile today is that all these problems have become intricately interwoven and in many instances, with Lebanon caught in its middle much as a fly in a spider’s web.
What happens in Lebanon in the upcoming June 7 parliamentary elections will in fact be a good litmus test for the rest of the region. At stake in these elections is the very essence of democracy taking hold in the Middle East. Lebanon’s June 7 elections are going to be a major test of Lebanon’s stability and its ability to demonstrate that it can hold on to its democracy, tattered as it might be.