The Russian-Chinese veto of a rather weak Security Council resolution that would have increased the international pressure on Syria has brought the international search for a diplomatic solution to an impasse. Moscow and Beijing have signaled that they have no interest in lending international legitimacy to a campaign for the end of Assad’s rule, so further actions will risk their fury. It’s likely that the next step will be stronger moves from the Arab League and the Arab Spring’s new great power, little Qatar. However, the end of the U.N. process has provoked a gush of violence around Syria that will certainly yield more calls for physical action. Calls for international support for the Free Syrian Army rebel group are becoming more common. This is an aggressive step that could lead to an all-out civil war. If the rebels win, there could be great opportunity for a regional transformation–Iranian influence in the Levant would be strangled, and a new government might change Syria’s decades-old rejection of the Arab-Israeli peace process. Lebanon might become more stable. However, a rebel victory is hardly certain. Several constituencies within Syria still want Bashar in power, and he’s being fed a steady supply of Russian arms. Providing the rebels access to similar volumes of weaponry might yield a long and bloody war. How would this affect America’s interest in the region?
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The National Strategy Forum Review just published an article I coauthored on the troubles of Egypt’s North Sinai Governorate. The article speaks for itself, so I won’t belabor it, but note that the section on insecurity is already out of date. The major natural gas pipeline that runs through the region, supplying both Jordan and Israel, has been blown up four times since the Egyptian revolution–we had to update the publishers once in April, and it’s been blown up twice in July. There’s really no telling who was behind it–the region is home to dissatisfied Bedouins, radical Islamist groups (foreign and domestic), and a range of organized crime groups. There are also human traffickers, drug runners, and rumors of Iranian-backed weapons smuggling. If I had to guess who’s blowing up the pipelines, I’d say it’s the Bedouin, as they’ve got a long history with the Egyptian central government. After years of displacement, corruption, sedentarization, and delegitimization, it’s no shock that they’re unhappy.
The Arab Spring has complicated relations within the Middle East. Prior to the revolts, one could point to only one real state-to-state axis—the Arabs against the Iranians. The Arab states were, despite their massive securitization, more or less united as status quo powers, seeking to keep down liberal and Islamist oppositions while making slow, or no, progress on reform. The revolts ended that consensus. Egypt and Tunisia have been forced to accelerate reforms and be at least slightly responsive to popular demands. Morocco and Jordan have forestalled revolution with moves towards constitutionalism. Some states, like Syria and Yemen, have lost what little regional influence they had, and some states, led by Saudi Arabia, are attempting to salvage what they can of the old order.