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What a difference a mere 3 years can make! In a part of the world where once time was considered to have ‘frozen,’ since 2010, the Middle East as we knew is changing forever.

Snapshot 3 years ago:

Israel had only 1 border out of 5 that was troubled;
Israel had a functioning military alliance with Turkey;
Israel was totally dependent on outside sources to meet is oil and natural gas needs
Israel had relations with two of the most friendly of US presidents to towards the Jewish state: Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

The powershift began in earnest, starting with the Tunisian Revolution of December 2010 to January 2011, when President Zine el-Abidene Ben Ali resigned and fled the country. The power shift moved to Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak was removed from power after only 18 days. Neighbouring Libya was hit, too, and after months of protracted war, Gaddafi was ousted and brutally murdered. Then, in probably the most ‘peaceful’ of transitions, Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh stood down. These four men collectively ruled their respective countries for 127 years!

These series of grass roots, youth-led, internet fueled revolutions in the Arab world have been called ‘The Arab Spring.’ This is a media-created term, signifying that the dark winter of long-term, autocratic, corrupt, nepotistic rulers have been thrown out and democracy, with elections, will take its place. Currently, the al Assad regime in Syria is going through its death throes as another ‘spring’ hits a long-entrenched dictatorship.

While the world has welcomed the transition from autocracy to democracy, transitions can bring instability, and the Arab Spring is no exception. Elections have been held in several key countries. With the exception of Libya, religious parties (Islamist) have won elections in Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt. If elections were held in Jordan and Syria, the results would be the same. The Arab world would do well to learn the lesson of the western world learned the hard way: whenever you mix ‘church and state,’ democratic freedoms go out the window. Women, minorities, and dissidents are the first to suffer. After that, the majority is swallowed up by tyranny. Already, Christian minorities in Egypt and Syria are under unprecedented pressure due to the transition of the Arab Spring. Tunisia, once the most westernised and secular of all Arab nations, now has Salafist thugs roaming the streets, seeking to enforce their brand on Islam - by force. Incredibly, Tunisia had its first beheading of a former Muslim who converted to Christianity. This would have been unthinkable in times gone by.

Most ominous is what I call the ‘Libyan precedent.’ When Libya’s ‘Arab Spring’ commenced, the United Nations, under the guise of humanitarian aid, did something unprecedented since its beginning in 1945. It authorised military force against a member nation for events happening within its own borders. This has never happened before. While the UN has sought to keep the peace between nations, it has never interferred in the affairs of a sovereign nation-state. If one nation gets interferrence, then no nations will be safe in the end. The Russians and Chinese were incensed by this action, since it could conceivably provide a pretext for global intervention in their respective restive areas like Chechnya and Xinjiang. NATO happily complied with the UN and did nightly bombing of Gaddafi’s compound, all the while with a straight face saying they did not want to kill him!

The Libyan revolution succeeded because of world intervention - plain and simple. There has been talk about intervening in the Syrian civil war; Israel is just down the road.

Since the start of the Arab Spring, here is the new scorecard:

Israel now has 4 out of 5 borders in trouble, the worse being Sinai. Jordan is stable -- for now -- but opposition to King Abdullah has become more vocal and visible.
The military alliance with Turkey was terminated in 2011, in part over the dispute regarding the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident in May 2010.
Israel has had strained relations with the administration of Barack Obama. Though he would call himself a friend of Israel, and the military aid continues, his relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been troubled.
Regarding energy resources, for the first time ever, Israel has located huge reserves of oil and natural gas off its Mediterranean coastline. The Jewish state could become an energy exporter, rather than importer, in the next few years.

A showdown with Iran over its nuclear program is still possible. The Iranian economy, not well-managed to begin with, has been king-hit by international sanctions. Their currency, the rial, has been devalued by up to 80% in one year. Inflation is up to 50% and oil exporters are down by 45%. While this is causing severe problems for the average Iranian, the regime is being supported by Russia and China. Like Joseph in the BIble, they have saved up for the lean years. Using oil wealth, they have been giving money to its citizens up to 50% of their (low) incomes. Iran believe Israel will not attack its nuclear facilities and that the sanctions are not ‘regime-threatening.’ So they are not ready to capitulate.

Israel, on the other hand, sees Iran with a nuclear weapon as an existential threat. They are prepared to act alone and unilaterally in order to damage Iran’s nuclear capability. Iran has promised retaliation against Israel and the United States if it is attacked.

Power is shifting in the Middle East; what we need to remember is that, as the region shifts, so does the rest of the world.


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