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Let us say it. Barring the unforeseen, there will be a major Middle East war in the next two years.
On one side will be Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and possibly Syria. On the other side will be Israel… and likely just Israel.
Furthermore, odds are that Israel will initiate the war.
But they will have Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United States quietly (and not so quietly) offering support. The United States, for reasons of its own related to both the continued Iraqi occupation and support of the Saudi and Israeli governments, may even enter the war. If the war goes especially bad, the Arab powers may even enter as separate combatants agaist Iran. Turkey, meanwhile, will say platitudes in support of Iran while profiting off of both sides.
Meanwhile, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is at death’s door. Whoever his successor is will face a lively Islamist opposition movement. Over in Saudi Arabia, the King is gravely ill. It’s a bad time in geopolitical terms.
As much as Israel is disliked in the Arab Middle East, Iranian hegemony is feared more by old-line powers such as Saudi Arabia and Mubarak’s Egypt. Syria is not necessarily opposed to it due to their own unique situation.
In the thinking of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Iran simply appears more dangerous than Israel. Their fear is that a nuclear-armed Iran will upend the regional balance of power and endanger their regimes. From the viewpoint of the rulers, it is a rational fear.
So in a word, the situation is a catastrophe. But how will this war play out?
The Los Angeles Times’s excellent “Babylon & Beyond” blog has a list of possible Iranian war scenarios with a wealth of links. The Los Angeles Times says the unsaid — that in an Iranian-Israeli war, Saudi Arabia will likely grant Israel rights to their airspace.
Israel and Iran share no land border and are on opposite ends of the Middle East.
The Atlantic’s equally invaluable “Atlantic Wire” blog has a list of reasons Israel has not bombed Iran yet that is a must-read.
Meanwhile, the American neoconservative-leaning journalist Michael J. Totten jokingly wrote on his blog that he was headed to the Middle East to bring his readers “pre-war coverage from Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.”
Unfortunately, Totten is right. He may be flip about it, but the coming war will be especially bad for the Middle East.
Israel will suffer greatly. Iran will suffer greatly. The Palestinians will suffer greatly. Lebanon will suffer greatly. At the end of the war, there will likely be no winners. There will still be no Palestinian state and the Islamic Republic of Iran will still be in power. Israel will likely incur the world’s wrath, given the state’s leadfooted inability to gain public sympathy. Odds are that the regional power balance will shift greatly. Odds are that Israelis, Palestinians, Lebanese and Iranians will suffer mass civillian casualties. Whatever power shifts may happen in the region, millions will suffer. Greatly.
The only consolation is that the war will not occur in the coming months unless Israel decides to attempt a Ramadan attack before the rainy season kicks in. Odds are unlikely, but in the Middle East, nothing is impossible.
This war will be nothing to laugh about. Writing as an American, as a citizen of the one true global hegemon, I’m intensely worried about what the coming years will bring for us. How will America cope when the entire Middle East, from Cairo to Tehran, goes to war?