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Middle East Wars

This area - the Middle East (as viewed from Europe) - contains many of the world's most active conflicts and wars.

At its heart is the Palestine problem, growing for at least 90 years (since 1918). But the question of the ownership and control of the oilfields is also important. China is showing increasingly urgent interest in securing oil supplies. Connected with both these problems is the rise of militant Islam, partly a reaction to the modern world as experienced by traditional religious communities, partly a cover for anti-colonialism, a reaction to the perceived domination of the whole area by western interests - first Britain and France, following the first world war, now by the United States. Then there is the rivalry between the interests of Iran and those of the Arab states, a competition that has been going on for at least 1000 years. The Iranian secular interest is partially masked by Shi'ite Islam, a variety that has existed since the early days of Islam (the death of the fourth Khalif Ali). The richest powers are Saudi Arabia, Iran and potentially Iraq, with tiny Kuwait up there among the richest (but surpassed by Qatar). The most effective militarily is Iran, even without its possible development of nuclear weapons. Israel has them, but surely can't use them in any conceivable circumstances.

The major war provoked by the United States invasion of Iraq was the 2006 center of attention. However, the August 2006 attack by Israel on Lebanon was also a major area of tension, alongside the continuing war in Palestine.

States which potentially could take part in wars include:

  • Syria (threatened by and threatening Israel; and by its own people);
  • Saudi Arabia (threatened by internal revolt of religious extremists and Shi'ites);
  • Iran (threatened by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia);
  • Yemen (threatened by Saudi Arabia, and disputes with Eritrea and internal tensions).

The events of Spring 2011 are affecting all these states. Demonstrations against the dictatorship in Tunisia resulted in the expulsion of the dictator, followed by similar events in Egypt. Both these revolutions seem to have ended peacefully with a promise of democracy from the military in these countries. (Will they deliver? That remains to be seen). Similar demonstrations in Libya resulted in a brutal civil war when the dictator sent his army against demonstrators and he hired mercenaries from further south in Africa. This war has involved NATO bombing Gadafi's weapons. In Syria also the dictator sent his army against people demanding democracy. In Mid-June it was reported that Iranian troops had been seen in Syria, presumably supporting the dictator.

One complication in Syria is that the government is formed by people from the minority religious group known as the Alawi, a variety of Shi'ism, whereas the majority population is Sunni (see Islam). A similar situation is found in Bahrain where mainly Shi'ite demonstrators demanding democracy from the minority Sunni rulers were met with military force from Saudi Arabia, which has its own discontented Shi'ite minority (but a majority in the oil-producing area).

There is no sign that fanatical followers of the late Osama bin Laden are involved in any of these disputes. A demand for an end to the oppressive dictatorships is the main motivation. However, in Yemen where the dictator may have been sent on his way (to "medical treatment" in Saudi Arabia), there is said to be an Al Qaeda presence, but they are not with the demonstrators. In January 2012 he left the country ostensibly for medical treatment in the United States.

Will civil war break out?

Saudi Arabia is involved in Bahrain and may have a role in Yemen. The rulers there do not support democracy anywhere.

Israel has lost its ally Mubarak in Egypt. No doubt its government is disturbed by the uprising in Syria. Israel is planning a railway from Eilat to the Mediterranean which would be capable of taking cargo if the Egyptians closed the Suez Canal again.

Turkey is receiving large numbers of refugees from Syria. As a member of NATO will they also be involved?

January 2012
Elections have been held in Egypt but the military are still in power. The Moslem Brotherhood political wing won a majority of seats. How moderate will they be, if they form a government?

August 2012
In Libya the National Transition Council seems to have a rather weak control of the country. Numerous local militias control their own localities. No national army or police force has been formed yet. A moderate assembly has been elected and taken office and is forming a government, and a commission to write a new constitution.

Tunisia has elected an assembly and the Moderate Islamic parties have gained office.

The riots and military attacks on demonstrations continue in Syria - at present the most active conflict.

 Afghanistan  Iraq  Palestine
 Caucasus  Kuwait  Somalia
 Ethiopia  Lebanon  Sudan
 Iran  Libya  Yemen
 Syria  Saudi Arabia  Tunisia

Last revised 13/08/12


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