Belmont Club

Today in the Middle East

With Egypt now headed by an Islamist head of state,  the country is headed for a possible a confrontation or coalition between Islamists and the Army. The New York Times writes, “faced with the popular election of the first Islamist head of state in the Arab world, Egypt’s ruling generals sought on Monday to soften the appearance of their supreme authority as they entered a period of negotiations with the prospective president over the balance of executive, legislative and military power.”

Israel now faces a renewed threat from the south in addition to the existing ones to the north.  The Israeli “navy fears Sinai terror groups will try infiltrating Israel by sea after construction of border fence is completed by year’s end.” The “Arab Spring” has basically undermined the peace arrangements negotiated with Sadat.

Israeli security officials have grown increasingly anxious about the security situation in the Sinai since Mubarak’s ouster. Continued political turmoil in Egypt, weak policing in the Sinai and tough terrain have all encouraged Islamic militant activity in the area. The mountainous desert now harbors an array of militant groups, including Palestinian extremists and al-Qaida-inspired jihadists, Egyptian and Israeli security officials say. The tumultuous situation surrounding Egyptian elections, in which Islamic groups made a strong showing, has added to Israeli unease.

News from the north was similarly gloomy as the Syrian civil war deepened and Russian involvement has increased. “Russia and China, both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council with veto power, frustrated attempts by key Western figures, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to enforce a United Nations peace plan brokered by special envoy Kofi Annan.”

Tensions are rising between Sunni and Shia in the region as “a series of car bombs … have killed scores of Syrians and elevated tensions in Syria’s two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, where the bombings have been the most dramatic manifestation of the 15-month insurrection. Authorities have blamed Al Qaeda-linked Islamic militants from Syria and other nations, including neighboring Iraq and Jordan, for previous suicide bombings.”

Meanwhile in succession problem of Saudi Arabia has been complicated by the death of one of its most senior members. “Prince Nayef’s death brings closer the day of reckoning when the Sauds will have to figure out how to move to the third generation of princes, the grandsons of King Abdulaziz al-Saud, who founded the kingdom in 1932.” Another aged member of the family has been named in the meantime.

With the region in ferment, however, no radical change is expected. King Abdullah, 88, though ailing, remains at the helm, and the Sauds successfully bought at least temporary social peace last year when they rolled out a $130 billion public welfare program.

“In the short run you are surrounded by revolutions all over and the Iranian threat, so the same policies will continue,” said Mahmoud Sabbagh, a young commentator. “I don’t think we will witness anything unexpected.”

The Western inability to respond in the region has been highlighted by reports that Canadian heavy equipment is now trapped in Afghanistan. “Hundreds of containers of Canadian military equipment remain trapped in Afghanistan as the Pakistani government continues to refuse to reopen NATO supply lines into the country.”

Meanwhile, the port in Karachi, Pakistan is jammed with containers of equipment belonging to the U.S. and other NATO allies, waiting to be shipped to bases in Afghanistan … “The teams themselves have taken it as far as we can right now,” said Capt. John Kirby, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defence. “And it’s in the hands of the political leadership in Pakistan.

Pakistan is demanding NATO pay $5,000 a truck, a significant hike from the old rate of $200 a truck.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Canada is working with NATO allies in hopes of retrieving the Canadian Forces equipment.

Gary Schmitt, writing in the Weekly Standard cites polls which say the public want out of Afghanistan. He depicts President Obama as the “AWOL commander” who lost interest in what he himself described as a “war of necessity” almost from the beginning. “Outside of his first year in office, the president has not made much of an effort to defend the war in Afghanistan or talk about the surge’s successes.”

One problem is whether it can get out of Afghanistan — with the stuff it brought in anyway.

How much of their heavy equipment they can retrieve depends to what extent the administration can negotiate a land route through Pakistan or alternatively through the ‘Stans. In the meantime, the Department of Defense has announced that despite restrictions on the use of heavy weapons in Afghanistan to prevent collateral damage “U.S. forces will retain the means of self-defense”.

Perhaps some equipment will have to transferred to the Afghan government and some of it destroyed to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Taliban. It’s happened before and it can happen again.


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