We are almost at the end of my series on Israel and Palestine. All the other posts have dealt with the history and the current situation. My next posts will explore what might happen in the future. I will do that by first considering my assumptions in this post. The following post will outline the various alternatives I have considered. In my final post, I will choose the scenario I consider most likely and explain why. Then I will be done on this topic at least for a while.
As my readers will know, I have been pretty good at predicting the future of technology. I am not sure if those skills are transferable to politics but I guess we will eventually find out. I am also trying to express what I think is going to happen. Please do not confuse that with what I would like to have happen
It is very difficult to predict specific events that might have significant impact on the evolution of the Israel/Palestinian situation. For instance, I could not have predicted that Rabin would have been killed by a religious jewish fanatic. Much of what may happen in the future can result from such events. But also, much of what will happen will result from trends that are predictable. I am going to list some of trends that I think are key in considering a number of possible outcomes.
America’s weakling position in the Middle East
American’s primary interest in the region has been driven by securing its oil supply. America found itself in this uncomfortable position because the key supplier of its oil was Saudi Arabia who, for various reasons (probably none of which really had to do with support for the Palestinian people), took up the cause of Palestine people especially as it pertained to the Israeli/Palestine conflict. The USA also gave support to Israel partly because it was the only democracy in the Middle East, it was very pro-USA, but equally or even more importantly, because of both the real and perceived political power of American Jews.
The combination of two really stupid wars in the middle east (Afghanistan and Iraq) have bled dry America’s desire to play a major role in the middle east. America is also currently operating under the illusion that it can be energy independent because of Shale Oil, an illusion that will probably hold for another ten years or so. This makes the Middle East much less strategic. Obama wanted to pivot to Asia in recognition of the growing economic and military strength of China, but instead has found himself in the quagmire know as the Middle East.
The USA is no longer the preferred supplier of cash to what ever corrupt government is operating in Egypt. Saudi Arabia has taken over this role. With the very important exception of Jordan, the USA is seeing its relationships with Arab nations weakening. And, it does not much care. With the eventual breakdown of the current peace talks, the USA will retrench diplomatically. Even Kerry, who must suffer from some messianic complex, will come to understand that neither the Israeli or Palestinian Governments really want an agreement at this time. They just go through the motions to keep the American government happy. The Palestinians also use the process to put International pressure on Israel in hopes of extracting some concessions short of an actual Two State Solution, which would probably be a death sentence for the Palestinian Authority leadership. Why does this matter? Because the USA never really cared about Palestine itself. It does care about Israel because Israel plays an important role with respect to USA defense activities.
Iran causes Saudi Arabia and the Emirates to move closer to Israel
Hopefully you are aware of the Sunni and Shiite Muslims and they don’t like each other very much. Iran is the leader of the Shiite World and Saudi Arabia is the leader of the Sunni world. By the way, Iraq use to be controlled by Sunni’s until the USA started an unnecessary war and changed the balance of power in the region by eliminating Iran’s major enemy (way to go George!)
Iran wants to be the leader in the region and presents a major challenge to Saudi Arabia who fears that once Iran has nuclear weapons, it will challenge the Saudi ruling family. Right now there is only one nuclear country in the Middle East – Israel. There is only one country that can challenge Iran militarily – Israel. So Saudi Arabia has to hold its nose and develop closer ties with Israel with respect to defense. Of course, no one will admit that this is happening. The same is true for the Emirates, those tiny oil rich countries located dangerously close to Iran. So it was not so strange to see Simon Peres participating by video in a conference dealing with Iran’s growing nuclear capabilities held in Abu Dhabi. There he was for all to see, with the Israeli flag behind him.
In the mean time, Saudi Arabia (Sunni) is trying to help the rebels in Syria (Sunni) to overthrow the Assad regime (Shiite) which is linked to Iran (Shiite.) It is also trying to keep Egypt (Suuni) from falling apart. So the Israel/Palestine conflict, while still important to Saudi Arabia, has moved way down in priority. Now that it is about the Saudi survival, there is little concern left for the Palestinians.
What does this all mean for the Israel/Palestine conflict? I believe it means that there will be less and less pressure on Israel. Saudi Arabia will use what ever political capital it has with the USA for instance, to focus on Iran.
Iran’s Existential Threat
And what of Iran’s existential threat to Israel? I don’t see Iran attacking Israel with Nuclear Weapons. The clerics that run the country are not really crazy. They just like to talk that way. Staying in power is what it is all about for them. Of course if they got atomic weapons, used them to attack Israel (with Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon also feeling the effects), they would find themselves attacked by the USA and what would be left of Israel (Israel has subs armed with Missiles.)
It is possible that Israel will attack Iran first. I certainly hope not because this would end up strengthening Iran and further isolate Israel. The Political powers in both Israel and Iran need each other to stay in power in their respective countries. The most serious issues for Israel would be things like dirty bombs via Iranian supported terrorists. But any attack on Israel like that would have a major effect on sentiment, thus freeing Israel to take action.
Israel’s neighbors in chaos
Israel’s neighbors, with the exception of Jordan, are in chaos. Egypt is a basket case and I should probably say “an empty basket case” because they do not grow enough food to feed their population and they are running out of foreign currency to import food. Only Saudi Arabia can keep the country intact. There is no way that Egypt can have any form of conflict with Israel. Of course in their weakened position, they can not longer control the Sinai which borders Israel and Gaza. This will become big problem for Israel as terrorists will be able to set up basis in Sinai where they could attack Israel primarily with rockets. Under the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, Israel cannot take military action in Sinai. This will not hold. It is even possible that Israel will have to retake the Sinai.
Lebanon is a small country with a population of only four million of which one million are Palestine and Syrian refugees. The country is very unstable. Hezbollah (Shiite) has a great deal of influence and really represents Israel’s greatest challenge. They have thousands of rockets that they have gotten from Syria and Iran many of which can be guided. I suspect that at some point they will used them to attack Israel’s heartland. Once that takes place, Israel will invade southern Lebanon once again and wipe out Hezbollah. Hezbollah has made some very serious mistakes and has been significantly weakened by supporting the Syrian civil war. By aligning themselves with Assad in the Syrian conflict, they have made enemies out of the Syrian rebels and turned much of the Lebanese population against them. They will find it difficult to hide out in Syria. Israel must eliminate Hezbollah.
Syria has an awful civil war going on. Assad will eventually win but the country he will run will be weakened. All of his military efforts will be directed at maintaining his power. Israel will give Syria back the Golan, but will lease it back for fifty years, so in effect nothing changes to the people living in the Golan. Assad will sign a peace treaty with Israel and agree to stop supporting Hezbollah, in exchange for Israeli financial support. This will also make it easier for Lebanon to sign a peace treaty with Israel.
Jordan (Sunni), only exists in its current form because of the support of Israel and the USA. I believe that this support will continue.
Israel’s economy continues to be strong in spite of boycott attempts
The Israeli economy is a power house compared to most countries. I won’t go into what an amazing success story Israel is, but the country clearly excels in so many areas. I expect this to continue or even increase. There are two factors that most of you may not be aware of. One is that Israel has discovered large amounts of natural gas off its coast and second, that it has become the world expert in desalinization. The combination is very powerful. Israel has the potential to become the food basket for the middle east. It can turn the Negev (and even the Sinai) into very successful farming regions.
There is no sign that USA/Israel economic ties will decline. The boycott movement against Israel in the USA is very week. Europe may be a different story, but I believe that any decline in trade with Europe will be made up by an increase trade with China and Africa.
Anti-Semitism in France has resulted in many of the 300,000 French Jews moving and/or investing in Israel. Just a short walk around Tel Aviv, where so much high end residential construction is taking place, will attest to this.
Israel’s military power will increase
For such a small country, Israel is a very significant military force. It excels at the development of Military Technology from Drones to Cyber warfare. Most importantly for the survival of Israel, is its anti-missile defense and anti-terrorist capabilities. Many countries around the world are getting advanced technology from Israel, and in the case of the USA, jointly developing military technology.
Palestinian Leadership will continue to fail the Palestinian People
I am not impressed with Palestinian Authority. I believe they are seeking to maintain power at the cost of improving the lives of the Palestinian people. But they are not worse than most politicians. It is just that the Palestinians need a Nelson Mandela. I don’t think that Israeli political leaders are that much better but Israel has so many other institution that are very functional while Palestine does not. Then there is Hamas to consider. Right now there is not even one Palestinian government. There are two.
Time is on Israel’s side. Arafat made a fatal decision in 2000 not to accept the Camp David Accords and to engage in the Second Intifada. Since that fatal decision, Israel has become significantly stronger economicly and militarily, while Palestine has seen its key supporters become weakened. In my opinion, right or wrong, Israel has engaged with the Palestinians in discussions about the Two State Solution because of direct or indirect pressure from third parties. Left to its own, it would not consider the creation of a Palestinian State. I will explore what this means for the future in my next posts.
Why do you think that Israel would cede Golan to Syria? Having been up there and knowing the security involved, it makes little sense as, like you said, Syria will be a weakened state and not have much force to do anything that would aid Israel in return.
I’m really enjoying your posts about the Middle East. It’s obvious you’re very well-informed and have done research.
I agree the W. Bush administration squandered much and we should not have gone into Iraq and destabilized that whole area. We did have to have some response to the terrorist camps in Afghanistan after 9/11, but the war there should not have gone on so long (it is still going on).
Lebanon used to be a nice place before the Palestinian refugees destabilized it and used it as a platform to launch attacks on Israel. Syria has also meddled in Lebanon’s affairs, so it is really a weak country that was taken down by its neighbors. One thing Lebanon does have is water. I don’t know how much of Israel’s water needs can be handled by desalinization, but I’m sure Israel covets part of Lebanon just to get more water, not only to punish Hezbollah.
The boycott Israel movement is still in its infancy, so I’d be cautious in writing it off so quickly. I agree it will get more traction in Europe and perhaps none at all in the United States, but that is still nothing to ignore. Boycotts by affluent countries have a way of spreading.
The rise of Iran, or perhaps the return of Iran, is the more important dynamic in the region coupled with the US decline. It’s a pity there’s no way for the Sunni and Shiite countries to get along and trade. Both would prosper from it.
Saudi Arabia could get their own nuclear weapons, they do have advanced US fighter jets and the have the cash to get whatever they want. If Israel and Saudi Arabia can’t come to some defense agreement, then I do expect Saudi Arabia to go nuclear.
Yes Israel is militarily strong and with war and turmoil consuming its neighbors, Israel is increasingly a safe port in a storm. That surrounding chaos should allow Israel to do whatever it wants for quite a while. Even if the Saudis arm themselves up, I don’t think they really want a conflict with Israel.
Miquel, Israel and Syria were close to an agreement just before the civil war in which Israel would give the Golan back to to Syria but lease it for 50 years. It was a face saving deal but would have resulted in peace agreement. Now Israel will require that Assad stop supporting Hezbollah in exchange for this agreement which includes financial
Mindwarm, really appreciate your thoughtful comments. Boycotts against Israel will only be effective if they are governmental actions. That could happen in some European countries but not in the USA.