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The Mideast Crack-Up: A Roundtable Discussion of the New Arab Map

Robert Worth, David Goldman, Edward Luttwak, Amos Harel, Nathan Thrall, and Lee Smith on the new Arab map

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A Syrian boy walks on the rubble of destroyed buildings in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on April 10, 2013. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

Q: Who does the rise of mini-states favor most, and whom does it hurt?

Nathan Thrall: The international order and its primary supporters—the United States, the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the body of international law—have a deep anti-secessionist bias, despite all the lip service paid to the rights of nations to self-determination. In many cases, neighboring states fear not only that mini-states could collapse and be replaced by something worse—witness Israel’s reluctance to attempt toppling Hamas or what remains of the Assad regime—but, conversely, that they could succeed in establishing themselves as internationally recognized, independent states. The creation of a state of Palestine would present a severe crisis to Jordan, which would then have to grapple with volatile questions of national identity that for the time being are mostly ignored. The creation of an independent state of Gaza would cause new headaches for Egypt, which fears bearing increased responsibility for the densely populated, refugee-filled Strip. In Syria, the formation of statelets could have destabilizing repercussions in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq. These fears have meant that the rise of quasi-statelets has played mostly to the advantage of revisionist powers that are willing to risk playing by a different set of rules.

Though in principle the United States could profit from the rise of these entities as much as Iran has in Lebanon, Gaza, and Syria, in practice the United States is risk-averse and highly unlikely to do so.

Edward Luttwak: The world that we will see as state power devolves to real communities is not as unstable as it looks. There are tacit understandings, accepted rules, and red lines; conflict is not precluded but channeled. Inter-state relations are mostly stable, while with non-state powers there are long cease-fires and short fights.

Robert Worth: I think the new era of fragmentation will reduce American influence and accelerate the current U.S. withdrawal from the region, for obvious reasons. The Americans like reliable partners, and the prospect of a Middle East peace deal seems dimmer than ever amid all this chaos. For Iran, it offers opportunities and risks. Hezbollah—its most valued client in the Arab world—may suffer, depending on the outcome in Syria. The war in Syria is itself a substantial risk and could be a tremendous drain on Iran’s resources. But Iran is (unlike the United States) very skilled at extending its influence in chaotic and war-torn regions. Iraq may become an even closer ally. Iran has begun to take advantage of Yemen’s chaos to build allies there as well.

I suspect that Israel is most threatened by the prospect of widespread state failure, even if its enemies are distracted for the moment by war. The threats to Israel may become more numerous and less predictable, and Iran will remain a threat. The fall of Assad would be a blow to Iran, but not one that would necessarily benefit Israel. A persistent state of chaos would probably be worse than Assad ever was, and there is no guarantee that a unified and Sunni-led government in Syria would be any less dangerous to Israel.

David Goldman: Washington is the least affected by the devolution of the Middle East. Although American policy blunders accelerated the breakup of Middle Eastern states, America bears the fewest consequences. Moscow has a great deal to lose because the destabilization of the region can spread to the Caucasus. In the past Moscow has relied on Turkey to control Islamists in the Black Sea area. This strategy is increasingly less effective as Turkey backs Islamists in Syria and as the effects of the Syrian civil war expose internal divisions in Turkey (through the Kurds as well as the Alevis). Moscow has to worry about a radicalized and weakened Turkey immersed in conflicts close to its borders and will probably respond by increasing its role in the region in unpredictable, destabilizing ways.

Jerusalem, on the other hand, faces a more complex set of threats than previously. The conventional threat on its borders has all but disappeared, but the threat from non-state actors with sophisticated weapons has increased. Given Iran’s role in Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza, the irregular conflicts on Israel’s borders add up to a set of proxy wars between Israel and Iran that continuously threatens to escalate into a direct conflict.

Amos Harel: Israeli policymakers (this almost seems like an oxymoron) are still grappling with what these developments mean for Israel. At least around Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Palestinian divide is probably looked upon as a Good Thing, since Netanyahu has evidently no intention of strengthening his 2009 Bar Ilan Speech commitment to the two-state solution. Other than that, Israel should be careful to limit its involvement in the mini-states around it, while providing low-profile assistance to the Hashemite king, hoping to prevent his fall. At the same time, it will continue to create confidential channels to relatively friendly groups in the neighboring countries (such as, perhaps, some of the secular opposition organizations in Syria). Any public Israeli assistance would soon become counter-productive for both sides. This year, the IDF’s intelligence people have begun talking about a “changing architecture” in the Middle East. The changes might continue for quite some time.

Lee Smith: American policymakers should stop trying to be so clever figuring out new ways to deal with what seem like new problems in the region—non-state actors, the break-up of the region into smaller cantons, etc.—that are actually not new at all. The reality is that there is very little new under the sun. The United States, like its allies, has an interest in preserving the existing order. They say that if you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail. But for the United States the vital strategic issues in the region really are nails. Accordingly, the United States should embrace its inner hammer.


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Poupic says:

Once Saddam was out was the time to break up this giant danger to all of it’s neighbors called Iraq. Iraq is a state created for the benefit of Britain only and the expense of the nations, religions, ethnic groups it chopped and diced and forced into Iraq. There is no Iraq neighbor that would not have breathed a sigh of relief if Iraq had been broken down then instead of attempting a nation building on the same horrible foundation. This of course appllies to Syria and Lebanon too, like it or not.

julis123 says:

I could have told you what Robert Worth’s answers would be before I read them. He simply parrots the NYT party line which has proven itself wrong in most cases in the middle east. You’d think that they might learn from their mistakes.

Beatrix17 says:

Worth is kind of worthless. Palestine was the name the Romans gave Israel. The UN created two states: One for the Palestinian Jews and one for the Palestinian Arabs. The Jews called their land Israel; the Arabs went to war, eventually losing their land to Jordan and Israel. When Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza from Jordan and Egypt, she eventually offered these areas to her former teammates, the Palestinian Arabs, who’ve found every excuse under the sun to reject them. They want Israel. (Why make the effort to start a new nation, when they can take over an established one)?

Is this what Worth thinks is disruptive?

Arabs called Israel a “colonizer” because some of her original inhabitants were European survivors of the Holocaust. But have you seen the Arabs rioting against their leaders? Look at the dark blonds, the red heads, the clearly European faces in the crowd. You can’t tell me there wasn’t some hanky panky between the Mideastern people and their European colonizers.

The Kurds have faced a lot of the same impediments that Israel has faced, and I’ve read that the Kurds are believers in democracy. Hopefully, the Israelis and the Kurds will be friends

nicydunegev says:

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The USA State Department continues its support of the wrong policies. From Loy Henderson in 1947 to John F. Kerry in 2013 there has been remarkably little sense in State when it comes to the Middle East. Even the remarkably able George Shultz made the error of recognizing Arafat. The past 3 Secretaries,M. Albright, C.Rice, and H. Clinton, have been enormously ineffective,

Rick S says:

What’s “new under the sun” are WMD such as biowarfare,etc. Small groups can now cause enormous damage to the US economy. We will miss the old dictators someday.

AreaMan says:

The British Colonies in North America went through a similar phase. Internecine fighting and a tremendous Civil War. The borders were drawn by foreign imperialists. Eventually, however, the original 13 colonies evolved into a much admired system.

AreaMan says:

If Israel’s public assistance to one of the statelets is so damaging, perhaps Israel should consider assistance to Iran.

Jacob Arnon says:

Worth’s blaming Israel for the Mid East crack up would be funny if it weren’t so serious. He didn’t just blame Israeli actions, but he blamed the very existence of Israel. This is the kind of language antisemites have always: Jews weren’t guilty for what they did but their very presence caused evil to occur.

Shame on the other participants for not calling on him to explain his bigoted views.

In any case Worth’s easy answers left out the real culprits for disrupting the middle East. These sometime go by the name of “modernism” and sometimes by the names of capitalism and communism, tough Germany under Hitler also had a role in it.

The Arabs world was an arena in which various world powers competed for influence and for oil. The Soviets thought they could score an easy victory by first attacking the Imperialist powers and then by taking their side in their wars against Israel.

But The German Nazi State beat them to it by trying to play the same game: they first attacked colonial Great Britain and then broadcasting anti-Jewish propaganda into the area.

After WW2 the Soviets followed suit with similar techniques and messages.

The US by promising protection from Soviet threats for exchange for oil also helped change the culture of the mid-East.

It could be argued the it was oil which played a larger role in destabilizing the region than any one country or combination of countries.

The number of causes destabilizing were varied and to blame it on Israel as Robert Worth did is a real stretch.

Beatrix17 says:

Because the original Zionists were so left wing, the Soviets expected Israel to back them. In fact, the Russians helped to vote Israel into existence. They were shocked to discover that the Jews preferred America and they made Israel pay for this by backing their enemies. If a Mid-Eastern nation wasn’t an enemy of Israel, Russia made sure they became enemies.. A lot of the anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in the Mid-East today is Communist in origin.

Jacob Arnon says:

Yes, a lot of antisemitism is of Soviet origin, and a lot is of German Nazi origin. In addition a lot is due to traditional Muslims and Christians who have lived there for hundreds of years. (Think of the Damascus blood libel of mid 19th C.)

There is no shortage of paternity claims for antisemitism.

As for why Stalin backed Israel there have been many theories. Whatever the truth is I doubt that a cynic like Stalin put much trust in people’s ideological beliefs.

I would guess that Stalin voted for a Jewish State because it gave the Russians a chance to play the part of the Arabs’ best friend and protector.

In other words, had the Jewish State been voted down there would be no need for Russian help and the Russian knew it.

Beatrix17 says:

It’s extremely doubtful that Stalin had any idea that tiny Israel was going to be a central force in Mideast politics. (People born after the war have no idea how unimportant Israel and Jews used to be). Stalin simply thought the left leaning Jews were a sure thing, and Russia could utilize their brains and abilities with no effort. Only after the Israelis favored America, did he see anti-Israeli propaganda as a way of unifying the diverse Muslim nations he was dealing with and of assuring their loyalty.

The economically hybrid Chinese are thinking of using Israel, too, but this is a new century and the Chinese are finding different ways of achieving their goals. They want to get the best from both sides without alienating either side. They know Obama has failed in the Mideast and they’re trying to consolidate their power while Obama is still in office because things may never be this easy for them again.

Iran was stated in this four page report on the break up of the mid-east, and as a major architect, introducing a new Caliphate. Outside of the Middle East, the West including the US is under pressure from strict Islam. Khomeini, is still running Iran from a back seat. He has been a major instigator of middle east unrest, together with new Wahhabi Koran. Iran finds Israel wanting, in this concept. Israel is a well run, affluent democracy. Unlike the rest of the Middle East! Saudi and Iran will be unlikely allies. A power struggle between Saudi Royals and Khomeini. At the original rise of Islam and Mohammed, the wealth of the merchant classes brought about major wars between the nomadic desert tribes. Again extreme inequality exists in the area. Is the Wahhabi Koran adopted only by Saudia Is Khomeini reading off the original Koran?

Islamic populations outside of the Middle East are huge, not referred to in the report….. currently being enlisted and armed? In the report reference has been made briefly, Israel and Jordan, become allies. Is this feasible? Could it be advantageous to Israel, is it worth brokering repatriation of Jordanian Palestinians? This still leaves the fanatical element of Islamic males under 30 looking for a fight! Israel at all costs must try to retrieve the Sinai Peninsular, secure the Golan Heights and remove the Gaza Strip and Fatah regions. Incur new standards of treason within the Nation of Israel for those flouting Israeli law. In conclusion the Middle East is in for a major shake up if not war, largely between Sunni’s and Shiites, Israel must defend herself to the maximum and has to win.

CrossWinds says:

…..Revelation 12:17……..17 And the dragon (Satan) was angry at the woman (Israel) and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus……..

……..Revelation 12:12………

Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.”

jzsnake says:

I too was surprised that no one called Worth on that.

Papa493 says:

Goldman: “the United States allowed the Shia government in Baghdad to drift toward the Iranian sphere of influence”

What did you think would happen when we removed Iran’s #1 enemy in the region?

Might I suggest the real problems world wide, but especially the Arab Islamic parts of the world, might be linked directly and or indirectly to Ted Turner and his worldwide cable TV. He brought the “good LIfe” we are living into the homes of the “bad lives” most are living. He helped speed up the awareness and understanding in the Arab and Islamic world of just how they have been ignored in the Economic Globalization of China and India buy the Western countries. More importantly how no Arab or Islamic country has benefited in the development process of investment since the fall of the Ottoman Empire; Maybe all the way back to the 900′s. Why was the very rich Bin Laden so upset with his own Saudi Government? What did he say about it?


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The Mideast Crack-Up: A Roundtable Discussion of the New Arab Map

Robert Worth, David Goldman, Edward Luttwak, Amos Harel, Nathan Thrall, and Lee Smith on the new Arab map

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