Left – Members of al Qaeda’s Nusra Front in Lebanon.
The already extremely complex Middle East may be on the verge of becoming even more so. At this point, the Sh’ia northern arc of Iran, Iraq, Assad and Hezbollah is in confrontation with the southern Sunni arc of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States (with the partial exception of Qatar). Adding to the confusion are the attempt on the part of Iran to outflank the Sunni arc in Yemen, and the rampaging Sunni Islamic State athwart the Sh’ia arc.
It would appear that the northern arc may be about to suffer a further rupture. Reports indicate that Assad’s forces are on their last legs and may soon disintegrate. Such a development would have the following implications:
(1) Syria would break up into ethnic/religious enclaves and disappear as a state entity. The Sunni majority would host a variety of warring factions, including Islamic State, Al-Qaida-related Nusra Front and other factions, some allied with the West and/or the Sunni arc states. The Alawite minority would try to protect itself with Iranian help. The Kurds would join Iraqi Kurdistan.
(2) Hezbollah would move into the Alawite enclave to help protect it. Some of its forces would return to Lebanon. The Lebanese political and refugee crisis would escalate to the point that Lebanon also may disappear as a state and divide into ethnic/religious enclaves, including Sunni, Sh’ia, Christian and Druze. The Sunni, Christians and Druze would be caught between the Alawites to the north and Hezbollah in the south. The remnants of the Lebanese army, heavily armed by Saudi Arabia and the US, may act as the militia of the non-Sh’ia enclave.
(3) Hezbollah may be ordered by its Iranian masters to create a diversion by attacking Israel with rockets from Lebanon and the Golan Heights. Israeli response would be massive and all this would lead to an even more serious refugee crisis, overwhelming international humanitarian efforts.
Direct involvement by Iranian forces would put them in frontal conflict with Islamic State. Allied bombing of Islamic State would presumably continue, benefitting Iran and its allied forces.
With an allied Egypt and Jordan and a newly-friendly Saudi Arabia on its southern and eastern borders, Israel would be able to concentrate military strength in the north.
Before the six powers and Iran reconvene on June 30th, the map of the Middle East puzzle may have been extensively redrawn. That in turn is likely to cause further aggressive behavior on the part of an embattled Iran. Even though such behavior may not influence an Obama Administration totally dedicated to making any kind of deal with the Iranian regime, it may well give some of the other countries involved, such as the French, second thoughts or even induce a refusal to sign any such agreement.
At that point, all bets are off, Iran will devote itself to regional mischief and achieving nuclear capability. The next Israeli government may wish to concentrate on housing and grocery prices, but it will not be permitted to do so.
* Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and teaches at the Center for National Security Studies and Geostrategy, University of Haifa.
* This op-ed was first published by Globes [online], Israel business news – www.globes-online.com – on May 5, 2015