A Balkanized Middle East Set To Blow

by Jeffrey Steinberg

The situation throughout the Middle East is looking more and more like the Balkans on the eve of World War I. Complex alliances, arms deals, and war provocations are creating the pre-conditions for a regional war that could soon explode into general conflict involving the United States, Russia, and China — and the likely use of thermonuclear weapons.

* For the first time in a very long while, an Iranian Navy ship, carrying weapons for Syria, was allowed by Egyptian authorities to pass through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean. The decision was made at the same time that Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi announced that he would attend the Non-Aligned Movement heads-of-state gathering in Tehran at the end of this week (Morsi is now in China on a crucial economic mission). He has also launched a regional quartet mediation of the Syria crisis, involving Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran.

* TIME magazine has detailed the flow of mercenaries and heavy weapons from Libya into Syria to overthrow the Assad government. The Free Syrian Army has posted a coordinator/recruiter in Libya to accelerate the flow of weapons and jihadis. According to TIME, Libyan fighters are bringing heavy weapons with them to Syria, including Russian SAM-7 anti-aircraft missiles.

* The Wall Street Journal reported today that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is now quietly sending officers and soldiers into Syria, to assist the Assad government. Last Thursday, Iran's Minister of Defense, Ahmad Vahidi, announced that Iran would be prepared to formally send troops and military aid to the Assad government if the armed rebels showed signs of gaining strength, under a longstanding mutual defense pact between Iran and Syria. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei officially appointed Qasim Solaimani, head of the Al Quds Brigade of the IRGC, to coordinate support for the Syrian government.

* Israel this week carried out a drone assassination of an Egyptian bedouin "jihadi" 18 miles inside of Egyptian territory in the Sinai Desert. This was the first time that Israel has conducted such an operation inside Egyptian territory, and marks a significant escalation of Israel's own drone assassinations program, which had been previously restricted to Gaza.

* The head of Israeli Military Intelligence, Gen. Aviv Kochavi, submitted his annual threat assessment to the head of the Israeli Defense Forces, and told Israeli reporters, "In the coming year, the State of Israel will come up against an unstable, increasingly Islamist region; a region that has been dealing with a series of crises — regional and internal — that increase the volatility of all the players and that could lead, without prior warning, to conflagration."

* Israel also bombed two sites in north Gaza overnight, claiming that they were weapons factories and storage depots. And Israeli officials continue to threaten a new "shock and awe" bombing campaign in Lebanon, where, they claim, Hezbollah has amassed 40-50,000 rockets and missiles since the 2006 war. This, in addition to Netanyahu and Barak's continuing threats to launch preventive attacks on Iran's nuclear program. The New York Times today fueled the Israeli war propaganda in a lead editorial, denouncing all of the governments that are attending the Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Tehran this week, accusing them of breaking Iran's isolation and making war more likely.

* Arab sources report that the internal situation in Jordan is getting very dangerous, with big Islamist demonstrations in rural areas against King Abdullah II, funded by Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states.

To make matters even worse, Arab sources report that a new UN Security Council resolution is being drafted by the U.S., Britain, France, and others, to establish a humanitarian corridor and no-fly zone in northern Syria. French President Hollande yesterday joined Obama and Cameron is peddling the line that Syria could use chemical weapons against its population and that this could be a casus belli for war without UN Security Council authorization. "We with our allies," Hollande ranted, "remain very watchful to prevent the use of chemical weapons by the regime, which would be for the international community a legitimate cause for direct intervention." Hollande also embraced a Turkish proposal to create the humanitarian safe zone inside Syria. To force the no-fly zone issue, Turkey has now shut the border with Syria, to create an internal humanitarian crisis along the border.

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