Regions & Powers group revisits the Middle East

Checking our assumptions and making new ones


13 March 2013

In early 2012, the newly-created R & P research group attempted to make a collective effort at assessing possible developments in the then- and still-turbulent Middle East. In early 2013, those efforts were re-examined and a new attempt of the same sort was undertaken. The results are worth a look. 
The results of the early-2012 attempt at political weather forecasting were summarized as following:

The majority opinion of the group is that the political crisis in Syria has already escalated to a civil war. It is always problematic to apply the strict academic definition, and in this case the problem is complicated by the very deliberate muddling of this question by both sides. The government presents its violence as a struggle against terrorists and Islamic extremists (giving a high number of casualties in the army and police), while presenting the demonstrations as a part of democratic process made possible by the lifting of the Emergency Law (which is construed as evidence of absence of civil war). The opposition argues that the government is guilty in one-sided violence (hence the high number of civilian casualties) but also exaggerates the strength of the Free Syrian Army.

There is also a strong opinion that the al-Assad regime will not survive the Year 2012, but its toppling would require a greater external pressure than that generated in the autumn of 2011. A UN intervention or a UN mandate for a R2P-type action is not presumed to be possible, so the main legitimacy-provider for an intervention could only be the Leage of Arab States or an ad-hoc group of concerned neighbours. Turkey might play a central role in orchestrating the regime change in Syria through an intervention, pursuing its own particular interests related to the Kurdistan and greater ambitions related to regional leadership. Qatar is eager to spin publicity and intrigue.

Neither China nor Russia are likely to change their stance on precluding any external intervention in this civil war. For China, it is the matter of upholding the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs, and for Russia it is largely a matter of distancing from NATO and building a common position with China. In the singular opinion of the chairman of the group, the short port-visit of Russian aircraft carrier Kuznetsov to Tartus in early January amounts to a grave political mistake caused primarily by the preoccupation of the Kremlin with the street protests against the regime on the eve of presidential elections. 

The summary of the assumptions made in early 2013, with some comments from the group coordinator, are as following:

The first Yes-or-No question was: Will the unrest in Libya escalate to a civil war? Our answer is No, with some reservations.

The most considered answer here is:

Libya will rather continue as a fragmented or failed state with irregular clashes and with no clear legitimate authority.

A similar question a year ago was about Syria, and the answer was Yes, and we got it right.

Myself, I am rather inclined to say Yes.

The second Yes-or-No question was: Will a new round of clashes around Gaza happen? Our answer is Yes, quite definitely.

The most considered response is quite long, and I will give only the key bit:

On a general level, economic conditions in Gaza and West Bank have deteriorated, settlements have continued and there is no political process between Palestinians and Israelis which would give some hope, however meager, to the youth – a large and dissatisfied group.

The third Yes-or-No question was: Will the Assad regime survive until the end of 2013? Our answer is Maybe, with nearly even split between Yes-No-Not Sure.

A year ago, this question was answered with very definite No.

Two most considered answers are:

(A)   The regime is not falling, but important forces (the Saudis, the Qataris, the US, the UK, France) want the war to continue – for them, it is all about Iran.

(B)   And what will follow? In the prophetic words of Erdogan, Major revolutions chose their own leaders.