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1:05AM

Wikistrat Middle East Monitor, October 2011

We're excited to announce the launch of Wikistrat's Middle East Monitor for October 2011, which can be viewed in its entirety here.

Summary

October saw multiple events of importance transpire. The most talked about is the death of former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. The National Transitional Council has officially declared victory, and now it must get to work in securing weapons stockpiles, disarming militias, preparing for elections, and meeting the expectations of a population eager for political and socio-economic progress. In addition, Qaddafi’s execution has a regional impact. It sends the message to opposition parties that violence can topple dictators even if their security forces stand by them, and it sends a message to ruling dictators that they will be killed if they lose such a conflict.

The U.S. announced that it will withdraw all military forces from Iraq by the end of the year except for a force of less than 200 personnel, intended to protect the embassy in Baghdad. The Iraqi government was unwilling to give the U.S. troops immunity from prosecution because of the insistence of the Sadrists in parliament who are loyal to the Iranian-backed cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr. However, President Obama said that there would be ongoing discussions regarding training of Iraqi security forces and other forms of assistance, and so it is possible that there will be a return of a minor level of troops. This is undoubtedly a victory for Iran, though the Iraqi resistance of U.S. demands proves the government’s legitimacy and sovereignty. The Iraqi decision disappoints the U.S. and satisfies Iran, but its show of independence is a sign of Iraq’s progress in becoming a democracy.

On October 23, Tunisia held a successful election with high turnout. The Islamist Ennahda Party won decisively with over 40 percent of the votes, but it does not have a majority. It will have to form an alliance with other parties to form the interim government that will oversee the writing of the draft constitution. Ennahda won because it successfully portrayed itself as a moderate force, especially when compared to the often-violent Salafists. Ennahda has the most to gain and most to lose in the coming months, as it will be blamed or commended for whatever happens in Tunisia. The coming months will show Ennahda’s true agenda as it shapes the future of the country.

The prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas, where over 1,000 terrorists were freed so Gilad Shalit could come home, was another big moment. The Israelis were overjoyed at the return of the young soldier, and Hamas portrayed the exchange as a vindication of its methods. This exchange deal is certain to motivate certain acts of terrorism and is politically-beneficial to Hamas. Fatah will suffer as it can be criticized for being an ineffective protector of Palestinians.

The U.S. announced that it foiled a plot by the Iranian regime to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. by setting off an explosion when he was dining. The Saudi official was likely targeted because confidential cables released by Wikileaks quoted him as privately urging the U.S. to bomb Iran. The perpetrators also discussed potential attacks on the Israeli and Saudi embassies in Washington D.C. and Buenos Aires. The plot has numerous repercussions: It effectively ends any hopes of a diplomatic engagement with Iran; it shows the world the threat that the regime poses; it exposes how Iran uses proxies, as the IRGC sought to enlist the help of Mexican drug traffickers; it heightens tension between the pro-American Arabs and Iran; and it undermines confidence in the Iranian regime’s capabilities. The plot, therefore, is in some ways a positive development for the West and it will assist its efforts to isolate and “punish” the regime for its nuclear program.

Finally, the death of Saudi Crown Prince Sultan has potentially huge ramifications. Prince Nayef, an ally of the Wahhabists, has replaced him. King Abdullah is of old age and poor health, so it won’t be long before Nayef becomes the leader of Saudi Arabia. He is viewed with great suspicion by the liberal elements of Saudi Arabia. He is also viewed as a strongman which, when coupled with his Wahhabist ties, will make Iran view Saudi Arabia with even more hostility. A key decision for Nayef will be whether to confront the Saudi youth and reformist elements by rolling back King Abdullah’s reforms and taking a staunch stand against demonstrations and demands for greater rights.

Wikistrat Bottom Lines

Go!Opportunities

  • The Islamists are taking center stage in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. This may drive the non-Islamists to finally unite and any missteps by the Islamists could play to the advantage of their adversaries.
  • The foiled Iranian-sponsored terror plot provides an opportunity for Iran’s enemies to pressure the international community to enact further sanctions. The plot’s failure can also be used to weaken the Iranian regime by undermining confidence in the ability of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
  • The uprising in Syria is causing severe tensions between the Assad regime, Iran, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey. The Iranian regime has criticized the Assad regime, while covertly backing it. The Iranian and Syrian regimes are angry at Hamas’ lack of support for Assad and Turkey’s embrace of Syrian military defectors. At the same time, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood lashed out at the Turkish Prime Minister for calling on Egypt to remain secular.

Stop!Risks

  • The obvious risk that comes with the Arab Spring is the ascent of the Islamist parties. This undoubtedly results in foreign policies more hostile to the West, especially towards Israel. In addition, their early political victories put them in a position to shape conditions to their favor, making it more difficult for the non-Islamists to compete against them.
  • The first round of elections in Egypt will be held on November 28. The better-than-expected performance of Ennahda in Tunisia indicates that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Development Party will likewise exceed expectations. The Brotherhood has generally been projected to win 20 to 30 percent of the vote.
  • The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Libya and come next summer, Afghanistan, will cause governments in the region to reconsider the balance of power. The Iraqi government could grow closer to Syria and Iran. Libya will be increasingly influenced by Qatar, which will be leading the Friends of Libya coalition. The Afghan government might turn to Pakistan and Iran in the hopes of attaining stability, though its strengthening relationship with India will offer it an alternative partner.
  • Israel’s deal with Hamas to have Gilad Shalit released in exchange for approximately 1,000 terrorists gives the Gaza-based group a major political victory and new momentum. This deal will be seen across the Arab world as vindication of Hamas’ methods and already, a Saudi cleric has put out a bounty on Israeli soldiers in order to encourage further kidnappings.
  • There is a risk of social unrest in Saudi Arabia as Prince Nayef’s power grows. If the liberal elements of society feel he is moving the country backwards, it could lead to confrontation. Any instability in Saudi Arabia will lead to an increase in oil prices. Iran and Al-Qaeda will also view such unrest as an opportunity.

Warning!Dependencies

  • The political calculations of the Islamist parties. The Islamists will be tempted to use their new position of power to push aggressive anti-Western policies and to institute domestic laws in line with Sharia-based governance. However, they must also be careful not to overplay their hand and jeopardize their popular support.
  • Iran’s calculation of whether to protect Bashar Assad or to embrace the Muslim Brotherhood. Iran is in a complicated position. Its alliance with Hamas and potential alliances with governments in the Arab world under Muslim Brotherhood influence are in jeopardy over the uprising in Syria.
  • Prince Nayef’s domestic political strategy. He is an ally of the Wahhabists but it is unknown which path he will take Saudi Arabia down. If he maintains the status quo, he will anger and please both sides at the same time. If he moves against the liberals, such as by trying to stamp out Western influences, he could cause a backlash. If he tries to appease the liberals by introducing reforms, he may encourage them while offending the Wahhabists.

 

Read the full version here.

Reader Comments (2)

A few of my own (uninformed) observations.

1. The lesson from Libya is that WMD is best insurance policy against intervention from the West. The Iranians have taken it to heart.

2. Sanctions haven't worked against Cuba in fifty years and they haven't worked against Iran in thirty. The West has to try something other than sanctions in Iran - you've done your "worst" and the Islamic Republic still stands with the major power players in place (40% of the economy in the hands of the Revolutionary Guard).

2011 will lead to an "expanded Iran" (with presence in Iraq and allies in Syria). Don't you think this is a nice time to start talking to them?

3. Islamists, once in power, will be very difficult to dislodge. This applies even more to Egypt than Tunisia. The middle class facebook and twitter intellectuals of Cairo and Tunis are more at home with Western journalists than with the man on the street. As long as the economic situation in North Africa remains bleak, expect the appeal of the Islamists to grow.

Islamists can always count on the support of the Mosque when the going gets tough, the secularists cannot.

4. Prepare for a new Middle East (more hostile to the West), no matter who wins the elections. The blatant opposition to Palestinian membership of UNESCO by the US (cutting off funding) is extremely risky in this atmosphere. Please reconsider.

November 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaduka

One question I come to is that since Iran, after America leaves the wars in the Middle East, can no longer use backdoor clients to impose pressure on the States. The question with the assassination attempt is whether this is the start of them using the Drug War as a proxy in the same manner, considering the one agent that caught the ring was pretending to be a drug cartel member. Or whether there involvement in Iraq was more or less to try and control their sphere of influence rather than just to just mess with the US.

Otherwise, Ahmadinejad looks about as canny at operating assassinations as CIA was against Castro minus the exploding cigar.

November 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTom Oliver

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