After the “Arab Spring”, a Middle East in turmoil

The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has released a comprehensive analysis of the “state of play” a decade after the Arab Spring revolutions and uprisings across the Middle East.  It makes sobering reading – and illustrates the vacuum within which terror groups like ISIS and rogue states like Iran are operating, and why they could (and still do) literally get away with murder.

The analysis summarizes its findings in five main points.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

  • Today, the Middle East is a combination of confused Arab nation-states that have shown their weakness and incapacity to contain the Iranian threat. The instability of Arab regimes allows the formation of sectarian and extremist Islamic militias that threaten the Middle Eastern and world order. The disintegration of the Middle East nation-states has placed the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on hold.
  • Turkey, with its Muslim Brotherhood leader, President Erdogan, has adopted an unprecedented activist and aggressive policy. Turkey was deeply involved in facilitating the introduction of ISIS fighters from Europe and Asia into Syria and Iraq. Turkey’s intelligence services were also implicated in the supply and training of jihadists in Egypt and Libya. Turkey’s intelligence agents were caught red-handed in Sinai fighting alongside jihadist organizations against the el-Sisi regime of Egypt.
  • This past decade saw the reappearance of Russia as a superpower in the Middle East. Moscow has sought to fill every vacuum and to replace the United States politically with new arms and economic deals. As a result of its massive military presence in Syria, Moscow became the mediator Israel could not circumvent and a force on the ground with whom Israel had to coordinate deconfliction arrangements to prevent unwanted clashes between the militaries of both countries.
  • Illustrative of the weakness of the Arab regimes was their inability to deal with existential dangers. Ethiopia is building the biggest hydroelectric power facility in Africa on the Blue Nile, whose inauguration is scheduled for 2022. The Blue Nile provides 85 percent of the water flow to Egypt downstream. Moreover, filling the Ethiopian dam threatens the water level in Egypt’s Aswan Dam, where a severe drop could jeopardize the production of electricity by the dam’s turbines. There is little wonder that Egypt has several times contemplated military action against the Ethiopian dam.
  • Iraq has always depended on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. In recent years the Iranians have diverted at least 42 rivers and springs of water flowing into Iraq, causing a migration of Iraqis from the water-stricken areas. The Turks have built five big dams on the Tigris. As a result of these projects, Iraq has lost more than 50 percent of its water. Before 2003, Iraq generated power from 12 hydroelectric stations. Reduced water flow because of Turkey and Iran, coupled with drought and the war with the Islamic State, have left Iraq’s major cities with only an intermittent supply of electricity.

There’s a lot more at the link, and it’s worthwhile reading for anyone interested in a part of the world in which US intervention is likely to be necessary – at least in some form – for years, if not decades, to come.



  1. Regarding the last two bullet points, one is reminded of the (not so) old West saying: "Whiskey is drinking; water is for fighting over."

  2. Writer, outlaw hanger-on and writer Eugene Manlove Rhodes wrote something like this:

    Water has been a source of strife in dry country since before Abraham left Aram Naharayim.

  3. When is the last time you purchased anything of substantive value from Iran, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, or from anywhere in Africa.

    The only thing all of those countries export is trouble. Get out, leave them to their own. Our policy should be "We have zero interest in any of them, but if they try to harm us in any manner (even by proxy or third party), we simply annihilate them with extreme prejudice."

    No faux "shock and awe", but a massive decapitation of all government and destruction on the level of Hiroshima and Dresden. (And, no nation building before or afterwards.)

    No more incremental steps, zero effort for a "proportionate response". Carthaginian in effect.

  4. Interesting article.

    Things to note:

    1. Author I believe is associated with the Labour Party in Israel. The writing struck me as a bit to the left.

    2. No mention of fracking, and it’s HUGE impact on the Middle East. Both in US interest, Iranian power, and local economies.

    2. Article seem to be blaming the US for Isis, Iranian actions, etc.

    3. Article did not mention the huge gas field Israel is developing.

    4. Author seemed to be blaming the US for Palestinian’s refusal to negotiate.

    5. No mention of Iranian demographics, economic mismanagement, and recent anti government protests.

    6. No mention of change in Lebanon of Sunni % in population.

    7. No mention of Trump withdrawal from most of Syria.

    8. No mention of game change in Israeli attitude towards Palestinians, and effectiveness of wall, and anti missile.

  5. To the extent the "Arab Spring" wasn't coopted by jihadis (for example, the Ayatollah Khomeini cooperated with Iran's communists against the Shah until he purged them) it was a movement of a small Westernized and largely urban minority. What was new in the 1970s was the return of Shia militant Islam to the world stage.

    On the Sunni side, the Muslim Brotherhood "renounced" violence (not in principle, but they decided that it was tactically premature.) A number of people in the Brotherhood then broke with the movement; one of them assassinated Anwar Sadat and others went on to form al Qaeda and many others. Some allied temporarily with the US in Afghanistan.

    On the Shia side, the Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran to lead the Islamic Revolution in 1979 with well known ramifications… some of which are the bullet points in the JCPA article Peter linked. The Shah fell when he wouldn't use the army to suppress the Islamic Revolution; as we see, the mullahs have no such compunction.

    The "laws of war" Westerners developed and which concern the JCPA are not part of either Shiite or Sunni legal systems. Like other secular and non-Muslim laws, they are to be obeyed when it is tactically useful to do so—where they do not contradict Sharia. So from the jihadi standpoint, "war crime" and "terrorist" are not accusations that bother them much. Sure, they'll make use of the terms when it suits them.

    This is not to be all multi-culti, but to point out that the cultural divide when the West confronts Turkey, Iran, and others is more extreme than that of the Cold War.

    For example, shariah does distinguish between expansive wars, which are discretionary for a ruler, except that the Caliph must engage in expansive jihad until Islam rules the world.

    All Muslims have a legal obligation to engage in or at least support defensive jihad—but "defensive" a term that needs parsing: When an individual rejects peaceful attempts to induce him to "revert" to Islam (or when a nation's leader rejects such a call from a Muslim leader, as IIRC George W. Bush did with Osam bin Laden,) according to widely held legal opinions that individual or that nation is committing aggression against the proselytizing Muslim(s). Therefore, any subsequent individual or national acts of jihad against that person or nation must be classified as defensive. War against a group or nation occupying territory that was once under Muslim rule is likewise intrinsically defensive and mandatory.

    That is the context in which the geopolitical issues and conflicts over resources are expressed, and which underly the report's mentions of jihad and jihadis.

  6. BFR – a surprising number of auto components and automobiles are built in Turkey. The Ram Promaster series, especially the Ram Promaster City, are all built in Turkey.

    Same with quite a few guns and gun components.

    And some aerospace stuff.

    Don't discount Turkey. The tricky Ottomans have been working the technological angle since the Germans first sold them cannon tech, back around the fall of Constantinople. They were technologically equivalent to the British during WWI. And they were hand-in-hand with the Nazis over some tech.

    And Iran is funny. They do have some manufacturing, from pre-Shaw, from France and Germany (gas and nuke stuff, thanks, ya rat bastiges) and the inevitable tech from Red China.

    Syria, Iraq and Africa? Yeah… No… Maybe Syria…nah…

  7. I'll echo Beans and mention that I've purchased a few large white domestic appliances that turned out to be of Turkish manufacture, and a decent proportion of the new clothing that comes into my house says "Turkey" on the label also.

    Civil war tends to destroy the manufacturing industry for consumer goods, so I wouldn't expect much from the failed states like Syria and Libya. Countries like Tunisia and Morocco have become major exporters of automotive components, with plants being built by the European companies that supply German, French, and Italian car-makers. The origin might not be obvious to the end consumer, but billions of dollars worth of hi-tech manufactured products are going somewhere from those countries.

  8. I've gotten wine from South Africa lately, if that counts. I don't suppose I've gotten anything from Mesopotamia or those parts lately.

    It surprised me a bit, Peter, reading about this report, to see that they seem to speak of the "nation-states" in that area – this is in regard to your first bullet point. I do not understand that Iraq, Syria, et al. currently constitute "nations" in any way. Their national identities are fictive. The Kurds are a nation – the Persians are a nation – the Tuareg are a nation, etc. But Algeria, Egypt, etc. are not, in my understanding. States, yes, but in the Middle East and Africa, statehood and nationhood do not generally overlap much. Am I wrong here? Am I just being naive in thinking of MENA as basically islands of differentiated real ethnicity in the wash of a mass Arab sea?

    Points 4 and 5 are intriguing. Hydroelectric may be green and all, but it seems to have the makings of a few wars in it.

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