Don't Be Complacent About War in the Middle East
The biggest danger in the world at the moment is that the Middle East war transmute from a complex of minor wars into one big one. In my previous post on the region - Qatar - I tried to show how complex things are, but it is possible that this complexity could crystalise out into a face to face between, on one side, Russia, Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, Qatar & Iraq, all possibly joined by Turkey, and on the other side USA, Saudi, Egypt, several gulf states, the Kurds, and Israel. This would be only a little short of a world war and the damage could put everything that has happened so far into the shade.
Why Danger is Increasing
This is a real danger and it seems to be being promoted by the Trump government's encouragement of the present tensions between (a) Saudi and Qatar and (b) Israel & Hezbollah as well as (c) its decision to arm the Kurds in spite of shrill protestations from the Turks. In all this the fate of Islamic State, the supposed enemy number one, becomes of very little import. Many of these conflicts can be seen as proxy wars over who is going to dominate the region. Under Trump the USA is asserting itself more forcefully, but the effect of this is to solidify the disparate forces that are opposed. Russia got involved in order to draw a line on the progressive US disruption of states in the area, especially when it came to its own ally, Syria. This was and for the moment remains a limited goal.
Ever Increasing Armament
Weapons that reach the Middle East do not necessarily stay with the group that first obtains them. There is a flourishing black market. Nobody supplies weapons directly to Islamic State, for instance, but it has plenty, some purchased and some seized in battles.
The new US government has just concluded a big arms sales agreement with Saudi in the south and is arming the Kurds and others in the north. One of Russia's main preoccupations at the moment is how to find ways to counter US military power. After the USA, Russia is the second largest arms exporter in the world. It has long been known for its Kalashnikov rifles that seems to have been the favourite small arm in every local war for as long as I can remember, but the kinds of weapons it is currently developing are particularly ones that can counter US ones - anti-aircraft and anti-drone defenses and rockets of considerable accuracy that can penetrate US-made defenses. Israel is worried that these types of weapons are now arriving in the possession of Hezbollah, weapons that, in theory, could hit anywhere in Israel, even its nuclear facilities in the Negev in the south.Hezbollah is the only military force that can claim to have had a victory of sorts over the Israelis. When Israel invaded south Lebanon some years ago Hezbollah drove them back. Hezbollah suffered much greater casualities, but at the end of the day it was they, not Israel, that held the ground.
This is why Israel has recently bombed transports and depots in Syria that it believes harboured such munitions. However, such raids have now begun to encounter anti-aircraft fire. How long will it be before an Israeli jet is shot down? How far will the de facto cooperation between Turkey and Iran in defense of Qatar go and what will the Saudi led group do in response? What will happen to the weapons that the Americans give to the Kurds and what will Turkey do about that? At the moment these issues remain separate. It does not, however, take a lot of imagination to see them coalescing into one huge conflagration.
The Eco Dimension
And I think it is not totally cynical to observe, that both the USA and Russia, as now being two of the biggest oil producers in the world, could each benefit substantially financially from the total disruption of the Middle East oil fields. Ecologists are worried about fossil fuels being used and/or running out, but there is another aspect. In terms of supply and demand there is actually too much oil in the world at the moment and that is keeping the price down. It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that it is oil that has been behind many of the wars that have already happened in the region.
It could all go very badly. Oh, and by the way, did you notice (just to put more pepper in the soup) that Gaddafi's son and heir has reappeared on the scene in Libya?