Crisis In The Middle East

Sean Para, Columnist

The Middle East seems to be on the brink of catastrophe. Syria is locked in a destructive civil war. Turkey and Israel appear on the brink of being drawn in. Israel has also launched a new offensive against the Gaza Strip, where open war has broken out between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas, mostly in the form of rocket attacks that have now claimed lives on both sides. Egypt is expressing its opposition to the renewed violence in Gaza in very threatening terms. This is the closest the Middle East has come to all-out war between independent regional states since the First Gulf War two decades ago (evidently our nation has invaded a few countries in the region since then). This perilous situation has come to the forefront of international relations.

The root of the current crisis lies in the Syrian Civil War, which began when the Assad regime implemented harsh crackdowns against democratic protesters inspired by the Arab Spring movement. Sadly, Syria’s regime was far more intransigent than Egypt’s, where opposition forces successfully ousted Hosni Mubarak in February of 2011. Events quickly spiraled out of control, and Syria found itself in the midst of civil war. Rebel groups are now coalescing into a legitimate opposition, known as the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. Significant parts of the country are under rebel control, while battles are still being fought in Aleppo and Homs. Violence is starting to spill into the surrounding region; there have been border clashes with Turkey, refugees are flooding into surrounding regions and Israel is building up forces in the Golan Heights. The region is near the brink of war.

Israel’s assault on Gaza is an entirely different piece of the puzzle, yet is another key factor in the tension present in the Middle East. Israel unilaterally left Gaza in 2005, giving it over to the administration of the Palestinian authority. In 2007, a contested Palestinian election split the patches of territory under Palestinian control into two parts, with the West Bank under the jurisdiction of Fatah and the Gaza strip under Hamas control. Gaza has since become a base for Hamas operations against Israel, particularly rocket attacks, and Israel has in response bombed the Gaza Strip and invaded it in 2008. Recent attacks from Gaza have led to massive Israeli retaliation, creating incredible destruction and suffering. Egypt has strongly protested against these actions, and no one can foresee how far the new Egyptian government will take its response. Israel and Egypt have not gone to war since 1973 and have since signed a peace treaty, but this Israeli attack on Gaza may destroy relations between the two powers.

The new tensions in the Middle East are largely a result of the Arab Spring. The spread of democracy was followed by a diplomatic realignment in the region, as the new governments, particularly Egypt, reassess their place in the world. The Arab Spring also sparked the Syrian Civil War. As often occurs throughout history, no one could have predicted the dramatic shifts that would follow the revolutions across the Middle East. The gains from the Arab Spring hang in the balance as the Middle East approaches cataclysm. Let us all hope for a peaceful resolution to these conflicts and the continuation of political and economic developments in the Middle East.