In this Stratfor article George Friedman reviews the core of the area of the Middle East that the U.S. has been involved in He discusses his prior analysis of the region, and where he's been right and wrong in his predictions, by touching upon the major players: Egypt, the Palestinians, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iran Afghanistan and Pakistan.
His biggest surprise was that Hamas was not as aggressive against Israel as he anticipated. I do have to pat myself on the back a little here -- I've stated several times that because of the Iranian/Arab competition, Hamas, which is Sunni, could find itself in a difficult spot because their Iranians patrons were Shiites.
I still think Syria is the immediate lynchpin, pry it from the Iranian orbit and both Hamas and Hezbullah would be in extremely difficult situations because their supply lines to their Shiite allies would be cut cut and people in the region having long, long memories.
Then again, I'll give my usual caveat -- I'm far from an expert so you can, and should, take my analysis with a huge grain of salt.
Since the article discussed the diplomatic scheming in the region, I decided to look for a scheming woman for its Hot Stratfor babe. Barbara Stanwyck wins the honor, for playing the manipulative Phyllis Dietrichson who conned the poor sap Walter Neff, played by Fred MacMurray into killing her husband in Double Indemnity
The film was written by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler as so it drips with excellent dialog and atmosphere. Poor Neff gets played like a fiddle by the seductive Mrs. Dietrichson and, as you can no doubt imagine, nothing good comes of it for the two. As a bonus, after the article I've included a video of Neff putting the moves on Dietrichson when they first meet. Little does he realize what's in store for him.
FROM THE MEDITERRANEAN TO THE HINDU KUSH: RETHINKING THE REGION
By George Friedman, October 18, 2011
The territory between the Mediterranean and the Hindu Kush has been the main arena for the U.S. intervention that followed the 9/11 attacks. Obviously, the United States had been engaged in this area in previous years, but 9/11 redefined it as the prime region in which it confronted jihadists. That struggle has had many phases, and it appears to have entered a new one over the past few weeks.
Some parts of this shift were expected. STRATFOR had anticipated tensions between Iran and its neighboring countries to rise as the U.S. withdrew from Iraq and Iran became more assertive. And we expected U.S.-Pakistani relations to reach a crisis before viable negotiations with the Afghan Taliban were made possible.
However, other events frankly surprised us. We had expected Hamas to respond to events in Egypt and to the Palestine National Authority's search for legitimacy through pursuit of U.N. recognition by trying to create a massive crisis with Israel, reasoning that the creation of such a crisis would strengthen anti-government forces in Egypt, increasing the chances for creating a new regime that would end the blockade of Gaza and suspend the peace treaty with Israel. We also thought that intense rocket fire into Israel would force Fatah to support an intifada or be marginalized by Hamas. Here we were clearly wrong; Hamas moved instead to reach a deal for the exchange of captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, which has reduced Israeli-Hamas tensions.
Our error was rooted in our failure to understand how the increased Iranian-Arab tensions would limit Hamas' room to maneuver. We also missed the fact that given the weakness of the opposition forces in Egypt -- something we had written about extensively -- Hamas would not see an opportunity to reshape Egyptian policies. The main forces in the region, particularly the failure of the Arab Spring in Egypt and the intensification of Iran's rise, obviated our logic on Hamas. Shalit's release, in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, marks a new stage in Israeli-Hamas relations. Let's consider how this is related to Iran and Pakistan.
The Iranian Game
The Iranians tested their strength in Bahrain, where Shiites rose up against their Sunni rulers with at least some degree of Iranian support. Saudi Arabia, linked by a causeway to Bahrain, perceived this as a test of its resolve, intervening with military force to suppress the demonstrators and block the Iranians. To Iran, Bahrain was simply a probe; the Saudi response did not represent a major reversal in Iranian fortunes.
The main game for Iran is in Iraq, where the U.S. withdrawal is reaching its final phase. Some troops may be left in Iraqi Kurdistan, but they will not be sufficient to shape events in Iraq. The Iranians will not be in control of Iraq, but they have sufficient allies, both in the government and in outside groups, that they will be able to block policies they oppose, either through the Iraqi political system or through disruption. They will not govern, but no one will be able to govern in direct opposition to them.
In Iraq, Iran sees an opportunity to extend its influence westward. Syria is allied with Iran, and it in turn jointly supports Hezbollah in Lebanon. The prospect of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq opened the door to a sphere of Iranian influence running along the southern Turkish border and along the northern border of Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi View
The origins of the uprising against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad are murky. It emerged during the general instability of the Arab Spring, but it took a different course. The al Assad regime did not collapse, al Assad was not replaced with another supporter of the regime, as happened in Egypt, and the opposition failed to simply disintegrate. In our view the opposition was never as powerful as the Western media portrayed it, nor was the al Assad regime as weak. It has held on far longer than others expected and shows no inclination of capitulating. For one thing, the existence of bodies such as The International Criminal Court leave al Assad nowhere to go if he stepped down, making a negotiated exit difficult. For another, al Assad does not see himself as needing to step down.
Two governments have emerged as particularly hostile to al Assad: the Saudi government and the Turkish government. The Turks attempted to negotiate a solution in Syria and were rebuffed by Assad. It is not clear the extent to which these governments see Syria simply as an isolated problem along their border or as part of a generalized Iranian threat. But it is clear that the Saudis are extremely sensitive to the Iranian threat and see the fall of the al Assad regime as essential for limiting the Iranians.
In this context, the last thing that the Saudis want to see is conflict with Israel. A war in Gaza would have given the al Assad regime an opportunity to engage with Israel, at least through Hezbollah, and portray opponents to the regime as undermining the struggle against the Israelis. This would have allowed al Assad to solicit Iranian help against Israel and, not incidentally, to help sustain his regime. [continued after the jump]