February 2, 2013

The Mideast is stumbling into one of its most dangerous crisis in decades.  I’m just back from the region – and as an old Mideast hand,  I am very worried.

This region is always tense, but right now a series of separate conflicts are rapidly beginning to intersect.   We see the Mideast, North Africa and the Sahara buffeted by revolutions and counter-revolutions.  Old colonial powers France and Britain, and the US,  are trying to reassert their domination in the region. The jihadist are back.

In a brazen act of war, Israel launched airstrikes on Syria last Wednesday in a clear attempt to worsen the crisis in that war-torn nation and challenge Syria’s ally, Iran.  Israel’s forces are on high alert and may invade Syria, whose strategic Golan Heights were seized and annexed by Israel.   Will more Syrian land follow?

Goaded by Israel, Iran thundered “any attack on Syria is an attack on Iran.”   An Iranian general warned Tel Aviv might come under attack.  Hot air, as they say in Farsi.   Separated from ally Syria by Iraq,  Iran’s not very mobile ground forces would be unable to intervene in Syria in any substantial way.  Israel’s air force would devastate any Iranian columns advancing in open terrain.

Iran’s feeble air force is barely operational after decades of crushing embargos by the United States and its allies.    Tehran’s dilapidated warplanes are far more menacing to their pilots than their enemies. Iran’s passenger airliners are flying coffins thanks to the US embargo of new aircraft and spare parts.

The only way Iran could strike at Israel is by firing medium-ranged Shahab-III missiles and a small number of Sajjil-2 solid propellant missiles.   Both are inaccurate.  Their 750-1,000 kg conventional warheads  would only do limited damage – unless they made a lucky hit on  Israel’s heavily defended Dimona nuclear reactor.

Israel estimates that a major Iranian non-nuclear strike would only cause a few hundred casualties. Israel is fast deploying a multi-layer anti-missile system: the Arrow-III, which has shown high hit probability in tests against missile warheads.  The low level Iron Dome system, which had an 80% hit probability against rockets fired from Gaza, and the new, highly accurate David’s Sling high altitude system, and more systems in the pipeline, give Israel’s the world’s most advanced and accurate anti-missile system that could be relied on to knock down a majority of incoming missiles from far-away Iran.

More important,  Israel would quickly counter-attack once its powerful radars (and a US-manned X-band radar based in Israel that can scan Iran) spot missile being launched by Tehran.  Israel has its own arsenal of accurate medium-ranged missiles, armed drones,  its powerful air force, and satellites watching Iran.

How would Israel know that an incoming Iranian missile was conventionally armed and not carrying a nuclear warhead?  Rather than gamble, Israel would probably hit Iran with its own nuclear arsenal, including nuclear-tipped cruise missiles fired by Israeli submarines lurking in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

Iran is not believed to have nuclear warheads – but how can Israel really be sure since it successfully concealed its own nuclear program from the United States.

Meanwhile, Egypt threatens to turn into another Syria.  The chief of staff of Egypt’s armed forces just warned his strife-torn nation is on the “brink of collapse.”  Conservative Arab nations, the US and Britain are fuelling a counter-revolution by Mubarakist forces and Christians.  Egypt’s economy has all but collapsed, igniting violent social unrest. A coup may be  imminent.

Syria is teetering on the brink of national collapse.  The Assad government has no popularity beyond its Alawi base, but half of Syrians don’t want to live in an Islamic state and fear what will happen to them if insurgent forces seize power.  Syria’s economy has almost ceased to function.  This bloody civil war threatens to turn Syria into a larger version of the ghastly 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war that I covered.

Russia is growling in the background.  Syria, recall, is as close to Russia’s southern border as northern Mexico is to Texas.   Washington is underestimating Russia’ growing anger.   Israel is still determined to push the US into war against Iran.  The Turks can’t decide whether to be neutrals or reborn Ottomans.  Caution: danger ahead.



copyright  Eric S. Margolis 2013





This post is in: Africa, Egypt, France, Great Britain, Iran, Israel, Mali, North America, Oil, Russia, Syria

6 Responses to “Just Back From The Mideast – And I’m Really Worried”

  1. George Rizk says:

    Eric, you nailed this analysis! My only point to make is the Syrian people did not burn the presidential palace in Damascus, as the Egyptians attempted to do to Morsi. In addition, it is known fact that the angry people in the streets screaming against the brotherhood gangs are pure EGYPTIANS! In opposite to the rented jihadists in Syria who are according to all observers paid by foreign powers, and full of foreign militants.

    The only way the US can continue to look the other way as crazy Islamists burn churches and rape Christian women is if the US has abandoned its Christian faith, and any sense of decency! We were outraged at the Serbians when they attacked the Muslims in the Balkans, could it be that our government is ANTI-CHRISTIANS?

  2. Mike Smith says:

    One also wonders about the state of the Iranian airforce…
    crushed by embargos yes…
    but they are at the same time building its own aircraft.
    While only time will tell if they are any good, or could be built in any numbers… it does show a determination and a strength of purpose.
    If Russia and or China were to dismiss the embargo… things could be interesting.

  3. Mike Smith says:

    Russia and possibly China will be the ones to watch in the coming weeks.
    Putin up to now has separated Russia from the fate of Assad, leaving things to fate, but perhaps Israels intervention will compel him to some action, perhaps countering with arms shipments and support.
    Iran on the other hand, while not able to jump in easily may benefit from either or both Russian and Chinese anger over these events. The sanctions could be ignored and the oil as well as trade may flow in response to this escalation.
    It might be worrisome, but I think necessary. If the world was a school yard, Israel and the Americans come off as bullies that need to be slapped down. A perfect storm is brewing, picture five years from now, Israel having alienated ALL of its neighbors as well as a large number of its own population face a united front. Russia and China become very influent amongst the new paradigm, selling arms and providing their UN vetos in support. The US economy crumbling, its military pulled in all directions for so long unable to respond, Europe having tried to intervene, pulling back due to their own economic woes and internal problems.
    The worm could finally be a turning.

  4. I haven’t commented here for a while now,but after seeing what the ME is turning into makes my blood boil.First of all,I am not racist,not anti-semetic,don’t hate any nationality,but I do hate war mongering poiliticians.Here,Israel always seems to stand out whenever there are surrounding conflicts.I had wished,for the sake of all Israelis and Jews,that PM Netanyahu would have received the grand boot out of office during last week’s elections.He did lose a lot of support…but obviously not enough.This week’s past airstrike in Syria is a CLEAR indication thet the right wing Likud party is not finished yet.

    They have absolutely NO business threatening Iran,who is NO threat to anyone from a military point of view.Sure a lot of hot air from Ahmadinejad…but he is known for that.He should keep his mouth shut.As for Syria,I believe the West had a strong influence on this grossly inhumane civil war that seems to shown no sign of letting up.Assad is no angel either…if he gets cornered he may just use his arsenal of US supplied chemical weapons.

    As for Mali and the new conflict going on there,I don’t believe one shred of what the mainstream media is feeding us.This is nothing new.All this garbage about Al Quaeda as the bad man here.Who the hell here is stealing and expoliting Africa’s natural resources?Yup…the West.It seems the more things change,the more they stay the same.Unless the West stops meddling outside their own borders there will always be wars and needless civilian deaths.Now Canada is lending their C-17 for France’s use to transport equipment.Initially first it was for a one time loan,but now it has been extended well into February…along with Canadian troops present.I smell another rat.

    As for Egypt,it is on a self destruct path.Everyone thought with the Islamic Brotherhood in charge now,there would be a complete turnaround…not so.Rest assured outside forces and western influences played a huge role here.It is evident now that the US has an unlimited ceiling of credit when it comes to the military,while to economy is NOT getting any better despite claims from Washington.President Obama has NO control over this.I wonder how he ever sleeps at night.Ditto for all war criminal politicians.Last year I was very concerned about the ME….now I’m downright scared for the future of mankind.

    • Mike Smith says:

      While I wish Ahmadinejad was a better public speaker, and that what he says didn’t get immediately reinterpreted by Western Politicians and the very biased media… I would say hold on, listen to the message.
      Rhetoric aside, he is the only world leader sticking to his guns about the historical injustices heaped upon the Palestinian people.
      Today many mention and debate the abuses going on now… but how this mess was began, and the causes are going to be a rather important part of how it will end, if a peaceful solution is to be found.
      And if he comes off as angry, you know… I would be ( and am ) angry too. Double standards are the main cause of discord in many of these situations… as you pointed out with African natural resource exploitation.
      UN weapons inspectors have been all over Iran repeatedly, when will they inspect Dimona ?
      If the Syrians are such a threat with WMD capability… who is watching Israels warstocks?
      Same with the ICC… why can’t they investigate and prosecute at will. Maybe even without an enforcement mechanism, trials held absent the accused, with warrants issued preventing the guilty from traveling freely would be a start. Look at the France vs Kissinger situation… bet more Bradly Mannings would provide evidence if it went somewhere.
      If the UN would stop favoring one side of a conflict over another it might regain some credibility, instead of selling out to big business, the MSM, and becoming another League of Nations worth nothing.

    • Mike and Menosh, y’all hit that one out of the ball park! The top priority of a respected leader—no good example comes immediately to mind—DON’T SHOW FAVOURITISM! Always call it as you see it. Everyone lives by the same rules, everyone is treated fairly, the punishment should fit the crime and the sooner the better

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