The Greater Middle East Is A Ticking Time Bomb – Analysis

The Greater Middle East is a ticking time bomb.

Generations in war-wracked Palestine, Syria, and Yemen have little, if anything, to look forward to. Moreover, discontent is mounting and could explode anytime in countries like Jordan, Egypt, and Iran.

Palestine is a pressure cooker. Gazan youth has known little else than two decades of wars and siege. Beyond the trauma of the latest six-month-old war, Gaza’s next generation is likely to experience at least a decade of a slow rebuilding of their lives that were shattered at birth.

Furthermore, Palestine threatens to be the lightning rod for widespread social, economic, and political discontent and the translation into militancy of despair and perceived double standards of not only the West but also their rulers.

As a result, the question is not if but when and how simmering frustration and anger will boil over.

“The Gaza war is stirring up every radical movement across the Middle East. Its recruitment potential against the US and Israel is enormous & will have repercussions for decades,” tweeted Middle East scholar Joshua Landis.

Mr. Landis noted that Osama Bin Laden first conceived of the 11 September 2001 Al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington in 1982 when he watched US-built F-16 fighter jets carpet bomb Beirut during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

For now, much of the threat of renewed revolts and militancy may be more bluster than real.

Iranian-backed Iraqi militants asserted that they stood ready to arm 12,000 fighters of the Islamic Resistance in Jordan that would open a new front against Israel.

Abu Ali al-Askari, a Kataib Hezbollah security official, suggested Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s assessment that all Jordanian militants needed was access to weapons inspired the offer.

There is no evidence of an Islamic fighting force in tightly controlled Jordan despite mounting public anger at the Gaza war, a limited number of border incidents, and indications of attempts by Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, Hamas, and Iran to exploit the fury, and in some cases smuggle arms from Jordan into the West Bank.

Earlier, Kataib Hezbollah said it would work with partners in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to enable militants to strike at “any point in West Asia where the Americans exist.”

A close US ally dependent on American economic and financial aid with a peace treaty with Israel, Jordan walks a tightrope with more than half of its population of Palestinian descent.

Against the backdrop of 22 per cent unemployment, Jordan’s Brotherhood affiliate, the Islamic Action Front, hopes escalating pro-Hamas protests in Jordan will favour it in general elections scheduled for later this year.

Similarly, Hamas leaders have sought to capitalise on pro-Palestinian sentiment and Jordanian vulnerability.

“We call on our brothers in Jordan, in particular, to escalate all forms of popular, mass, and resistance action. You, our people in Jordan, are the nightmare of the occupation that fears your movement and strives tirelessly to neutralize and isolate you from your cause.,” said Hamas military spokesman Abu Obeida in November.

Last month, senior Doha-based Hamas official Khaled Mishaal, who survived an Israeli assassination attempt in Amman in 1997, told a women’s gathering in Jordan in a video address that “Jordan is a beloved country, and it is the closest to Palestine, so its men and women are expected to take more supportive roles than any other people towards the land of resistance and resilience.”

While Jordan is unlikely to emerge as a major venue for militant resistance against Israel, escalating Baloch and Islamic State violence in Iran, a country in which widespread discontent regularly spills into the streets, and the adjacent Pakistani province of Balochistan is an indication of potential explosions of popular discontent and/or militancy.

Wealthy Gulf states see the writing on the wall. They worry that simmering public frustration and anger in much of the Middle East threatens their economic diversification and development plans.

Signalling Gulf concerns, Salah Al Budair, the Medina Grand Mosque’s imam, asked God in his prayers last week to protect Muslim countries “from revolutions and protest.”

Determined to contain public sentiment, Saudi authorities, in contrast to the United Arab Emirates and Qatar and despite official condemnations of Israel’s Gaza war conduct, have cracked down on expressions of solidarity such as the donning of keffiyehs, the chequered head scarf symbolizing Palestinian identity, T-shirts with Palestine emblazoned on them, and the waving of Palestinian flags.

Similarly, Egypt, a nation that perennially pulls back from the brink of economic disaster with the help of band-aid foreign financial injections, has largely banned public protests and criticism of the country’s ties with Israel.

Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi fears that pro-Palestinian demonstrations could expand into domestic protest as has happened in the past.

“The Palestinian cause has always been a politicizing factor for Egyptian youth across generations,” said Hossam el-Hamalawy, a prominent Egyptian journalist, photographer, activist, and author of a weekly newsletter.

“In fact, for many Egyptian political activists — whether those who led the (2011) revolution or were involved in earlier protests — their gateway into politics was the Palestinian cause. The 2011 uprising in Egypt was literally the climax of a process that started with the second Palestinian intifada a decade earlier,” Mr. El-Hamalawy added.

Even so, Mr. El-Hamalawy, pointing to Mr. Al-Sisi’s harsh crackdown on dissent, cautioned that “we’re not on the verge of another 2011 because there is a substantial difference between dissidents now and then.”

Nevertheless, “the more this war (in Gaza) drags on, the more likely it is that something might happen,” Mr. El-Hamalawy said.

However, he noted that there are localized indications of mounting dissent. “So, the more this war (in Gaza) drags on, the more likely it is that something might happen.”

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