reflections

Sep 19, 2008 | 02:03 GMT

4 mins read

Geopolitical Diary: Israeli Politics and Movements in the Middle East

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Thursday just barely secured control of Israel's Kadima party. She now has just 42 days to cobble together a coalition to keep Kadima in power. If she fails, Israel will have to plan for general elections in 2009, giving right-wing Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu the opening he has been waiting for to come back into the political spotlight. And Livni certainly has her work cut out for her. Israel is essentially a black hole when it comes to politics. Political alliances can shift by the hour, and attempts at forecasting election outcomes this far in advance are pretty much futile. With Netanyahu champing at the bit to force early elections, the political wrangling over the smaller political parties is about to get nasty. But in lifting our eyes from the political chaos in Israel, the surrounding region looks suspiciously calm. Syria is keeping to itself, preferring to set aside its peace talks with Israel while the Israelis get their political house in order. Hezbollah, fearing that Livni's victory will result in a rematch in Lebanon to shore up support among the Israeli right, is quietly making preparations for war. The Palestinians are in their usual state of disarray, with Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas expressing support for future negotiations with Livni and with rival Hamas using Livni's win to reassert its commitment to resistance against Israel. With Israel sorting itself out internally and the neighboring Arabs lying in wait for the final outcome, this brief respite presents an opportunity for the Russians in the Middle East theater. Russia brought the world back into a Cold War paradigm with its August invasion of Georgia. The idea of a revived Cold War gained further traction in recent weeks when key Russian leaders emerged from the shadows and started popping up in places such as Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua to sit down with their old Latin American drinking buddies and discuss a slew of arms deals. While the Russians appear to be paying a lot of attention to Latin America, the Middle East remains a viable playing ground for Russia to turn the screws on the West. In fact, STRATFOR already has been getting indications that Russian intelligence officers are pouring into Beirut — a traditional Cold War battleground. Of course, much has changed since the days of Soviet-sponsored chaos in the Middle East. Many of the Palestinian leftist leaders with whom the Soviets worked are either dead or retired. Groups have gone extinct. Alliances have shifted. Nonetheless, the Russians still have a menu of options in getting back into the Middle East game. They will find no shortage of disaffected Palestinians who are sick of the current state of affairs and would be more than happy to have a foreign state sponsor. Former Marxist groups such as the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey, after being beaten heavily in the past year by the Turks in northern Iraq, would likely jump at the opportunity to link up with their old Russian backers. Lebanon, which is now experiencing a higher-than-usual degree of communal volatility, has a range of factions for the Russians to choose from. And the list goes on. Should the Russians decide that it is worth their while to incur the risk of provoking both Israel and Turkey, the Middle East is the next logical place for Moscow to ramp up covert activity. And the time to do so is now, while the Israelis are still distracted. Turkey already sees the Russians coming. The Turks were extremely displeased to see Russia at war in the Caucasus, and they now are doing everything they can to keep the Russians as far away from the Middle East as possible. For this reason, STRATFOR is hearing that the Turks are growing more and more insistent that the peace talks between Israel and Syria move forward — and quickly. Syria, meanwhile, is in an interesting position. On the one hand, they can listen to their Turkish mediators and pursue an opening with the United States through a peace deal with Israel. On the other hand, they can choose to jump back into the Cold War game with the Russians and work against Western interests, taking all the risks that come with such a plan. In any case, the Syrians will have a lot of hard thinking to do over the next several weeks.

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