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Is the Middle East on the Brink of Another War?

Tuesday's cross-border firefight between Israeli and Lebanese government forces might simply have been a misunderstanding. And the rockets fired from Gaza and the Israeli air strikes on the besieged border territory over the past week could be viewed as periodic blips in business as usual on that front. By the same token, last Friday's unprecedented joint visit to Beirut by the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Syria could be viewed simply as a move to stop the conflict between their Lebanese proxies from turning nasty. And British Prime Minister David Cameron's pleas to Turkey to keep open its communication channels with Israel's leaders are quotidian diplomatic common sense. Viewed in a wider context, however, each of those events could be signs of why many in the Middle East believe that despite the outward calm, the region may be on the brink of another catastrophic war.

A new report based on extensive conversations with regional decisionmakers, released Monday, Aug. 2, by the International Crisis Group, the respected mediation organization of former diplomats, warns of the possibility of war. "The situation in the Levant is ... exceptionally quiet and uniquely dangerous, both for the same reason," the Crisis Group warns. "The buildup in military forces and threats of an all-out war that would spare neither civilians nor civilian infrastructure, together with the worrisome prospect of its regionalization, are effectively deterring all sides." But while Hizballah and its regional backers, Syria and Iran, believe that the buildup in the Shi'ite militia's arsenal and capabilities is deterring Israel from launching attacks on any of them, Israel views the acquisition by Hizballah of a missile arsenal capable of raining destruction on Israeli cities as an intolerable threat. "As Hizballah's firepower grows," the Crisis Group notes, "so too does Israel's desire to tackle the problem before it is too late ... What is holding the current architecture in place is also what could rapidly bring it down."

Should a new war break out, Israel is determined to strike a devastating blow more quickly than it did during the last conflict, in which it failed in its objective of destroying Hizballah. It has publicly warned that it would destroy Lebanese civilian infrastructure and that Syria, as Hizballah's armorer, would not be off-limits. But Hizballah believes its capacity to fire missiles into Tel Aviv is key to restraining Israel from returning to finish off the Shi'ite militia. And, of course, amid regional tensions over Iran's nuclear program, members of the self-styled "axis of resistance" — Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hizballah — have deepened their alliance, raising the possibility of any one of those groups joining the fray should any of the others come under attack from Israel or the U.S.

Although all of the main players have good reason to avoid initiating another war right now, the Crisis Group warns that "tensions are mounting with no obvious safety valve." At some point, Hizballah's growing deterrent could cross Israel's red line. And the Western diplomatic boycott of the resistance camp is cause for alarm, because there are no effective channels through which the various antagonists can be made to understand how their actions could produce unintended consequences — in the tragic tradition of Middle Eastern wars that have erupted in part because the adversaries failed to understand one another's intentions. Indeed, after proclaiming his movement's "divine victory" in standing up to Israel's 2006 offensive, a feat that made him a hero on the streets of the Arab world, Hizballah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah admitted that had he known Israel would respond with a full-blown invasion, he would have avoided the provocation of snatching the Israeli troops, which started the showdown.

The danger posed by the lack of communication channels between the resistance camp and the Israelis explains why British Prime Minister Cameron, a recent guest at the White House, last week went to Ankara to urge Turkey to maintain its ties with Israel and use its ties to the likes of Syria to facilitate communication that could mitigate an outbreak. Turkey has been pilloried in some quarters in the West — and certainly in Israel — for its diplomatic rapprochement with Syria, Iran and Hamas, but Cameron's appeal was a tacit admission that the continuing Bush-era policy of refusing to engage with the region's designated radicals has sharply diminished the ability of the U.S. and the European Union to influence events in the Middle East. Peace talks between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Israelis are all very well, but Abbas is not at war with Israel, nor would he be if a new round of fighting broke out in Gaza.

Even in the besieged Palestinian territory, however, neither side is looking to restart full-blown hostilities of the type that left the territory devastated 18 months ago. The projectiles fired from the Palestinian side last week caused no casualties, and the Israeli military believes they were fired not by Hamas but by some of the smaller rival groups that occasionally challenge the cease-fire Hamas has imposed since February 2009. Some Israeli analysts suspect that Hamas may have momentarily eased up its enforcement of the cease-fire to remind the U.S. and Israel of the perils of leaving it out of the peace process. Still, although Israel targeted Hamas commanders in weekend air strikes, Israel's handling of Gaza has brought it increasing diplomatic isolation, which a new round of fighting would likely accelerate.

But the Hamas cease-fire that has largely held for the past 18 months is a unilateral one, with no clear channels of communication or agreed-upon rules of engagement, meaning that the danger of escalation is ever present. The same is true on the Israel-Lebanon border, where both sides have been preparing for the next war ever since the last one ended, neither desiring that option but both accepting it as inevitable. In the absence of any peace process by which Syria can recover the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since the 1967 war, Syria continues to support Hizballah as its prime form of leverage against the Jewish state. The diplomatic dynamic over the past decade has also deepened Damascus' alliance with Tehran, which in turn makes Israel even more leery of engaging with the Syrians. And conventional wisdom has long held that should Iran's nuclear facilities come under attack, Hizballah's rockets would figure prominently in Tehran's retaliation plans.

So the potential triggers for a new round of hostilities have multiplied, as has the danger of them going off in sequence as a result of the ties between some of the key players. And right now, the Crisis Group warns, "there is no mechanism in place to either address or ease" those mounting tensions. Absent a political process that can credibly resolve or regulate conflicts ranging from Gaza and the Golan Heights to Iran, "the world should cross its fingers that fear of a catastrophic conflict will continue to be reason enough for the parties not to provoke one."

Link:
Is the Middle East on the Brink of Another War?Read more: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2008156,00.html?xid=rss-topstories#ixzz0xOA7WCme


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Added: Aug-22-2010 Occurred On: Aug-3-2010
By: Cheeseman
In:
Iran, Middle East
Tags: Middle East, Lebanon, Lebanese, Hizballah, Isreal, Iran, nuclear, War
Views: 23112 | Comments: 21 | Votes: 0 | Favorites: 0 | Shared: 0 | Updates: 0 | Times used in channels: 1
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  • Of course they are on the brink.
    Iran is provoking everything from the sidelines and now can't wait to try out their new toys.
    Israel will probably get nuked within 2 or 3 years, if they don't do something now.
    The war is going to happen anyways, might as well get in the first licks.

    Posted Aug-22-2010 By 

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  • they have been at war for the past 2000 years, i would say a more shocking title would be "is the Middle East on the Brink of Peace"??

    Posted Aug-22-2010 By 

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  • If they want to start another war, can we please stay out of this one somehow?

    Posted Aug-23-2010 By 

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    • No. Iran has declared several times that they will attack USA automaticaly if there is a war. Also, if you guys declared that you intend to stay out of it, that would be encouraging Israel's enemies to start the war and that might force israel to use nuclear weapons. So trust me, US presence in ME has calming effect.

      Posted Aug-23-2010 By 

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  • Just make sure whoever films the start of the bombings for Gods sake hold the camera still. I hate shaky war vids...

    Posted Aug-23-2010 By 

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  • Let Israel take the gloves off and let them fight it out.

    Posted Aug-22-2010 By 

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    • Comment of user 'Neytiri' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
    • the Hez would def cry afterward

      Posted Aug-22-2010 By 

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    • destruction of tel-aviv means the destruction of jaffa, since they are the same city, and the destruction of tens of thousends of arab lifes, which live in jaffa and other areas around.

      Posted Aug-23-2010 By 

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    • during the 2006 war almost half of the israeli civilian casulties were arabs, since the hiz. rockets had a tendency to land in the arabs towns and villages.

      Posted Aug-23-2010 By 

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    • Wow...you really are a propaganda machine.
      Not one thing you said was even correct!
      You arabs have been saying if a war breaks out it will be the end of israel for the last 60 years. In 6 wars you got your asses kicked every time, yet after each war you still claim victory!
      hahahahahahahaha

      When will you Jew hating muslims realize that Israel is here forever. Nothing you can do or say will destroy Israel.
      Hezbollah on the other hand......well, their days are numbered....even the Lebanese dont w More..

      Posted Aug-23-2010 By 

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  • Of course it is, isnt it always?

    Israels need and tact for protection and Angry Muslim neighbours only ever leads to one thing.

    Posted Aug-22-2010 By 

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  • When has the middle east NOT been on the verge of
    another war?I don't recall a time in my life that
    these people weren't either at war,finishing a war,
    or going to war.It's the only thing that makes them
    happy.

    Posted Aug-23-2010 By 

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  • Comment of user 'Neytiri' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
  • we will celebrate your dramatic triumph, as you will not exist

    Posted Aug-23-2010 By 

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  • Yes, and a real gut bustin' city bombing baby killin' war too!
    When it's over the whole region will be a wasteland of radioactive glass and dead people.
    The war won't spare the muslim's or the Jews and will disrupt global oil supplies for about two weeks.
    Mecca? Gone, Tel Aviv? gone, the Aswan dam? gone along with the nation of egypt which will be swept into the med.
    I see the entire ummah involved and suffer accordingly.

    Posted Oct-23-2011 By 

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  • Nuke these dirt people

    Posted May-25-2012 By 

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  • Of course the M/East is on the brink of war,have been since 1949! There will first be Civil war in Turkey and the rest will happen so quick the West will be left behind the eight ball,again! I mean to say,how much warning do you need? North Korea and Iran will take the advantage to flex their muscles and they WILL strike their mortal enemies pretty damn quick,this will result in the West being too slow to react!How will it pan out? Simple,because the West do not believe it can happen we will be More..

    Posted Jun-11-2013 By 

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