Tuesday, January 06, 2004

For better or worse, lots of things are changing in the Middle East 

I wish I knew enough about Middle Eastern politics to put all the recent news into context, but I really don't. Nevertheless, the sheer volume of news in just the last couple of days suggests that something has changed.

Consider that Israel and Libya are in direct contact, and that an Israeli delegation "will visit Tripoli toward the end of this month, with the aim of discussing the end of a formal state of hostility between Libya and Israel, and building normal ties between both countries."

Consider that Iran and Egypt are closer to restoring ties after more than 25 years. This apparently is possible because Iran has "agreed to rename a street which commemorated Khaled Islambouli, an Islamic radical who opposed the Israeli-Egyptian peace deal and killed Sadat in 1981. The street's name was changed to Intifada street, after the Palestinian uprising, at the request of Iran's Foreign Ministry. Cairo had demanded Iran rename the street before it would contemplate restoring ties." (TigerHawk wonders whether there is a John Hinckley, Jr. Boulevard anywhere in Iran.)

According to the article, the U.S. is quietly positive about the Iran-Egypt rapprochment, because "a U.S. ally like Egypt could help nudge Iran to take actions Washington wants to see as well as provide another window on Tehran."

Consider that Turkey and Israel have announced a remarkable "arms for water" deal, through which Turkey will supply 50 million cubic meters of water per year to Israel in exchange for tanks and aircraft. Although Turkey has long recognized Israel, it seems remarkable (to me, at least) that a Muslim country with a significant Islamic political faction should overtly cut a deal to barter arms from Israel. Also, Israel's requirement for fresh water is a factor in its reluctance to withdraw from certain of the territory it occupies, including the Golan Heights. Might this deal alleviate some of Israel's fresh water supply problems?

Finally, the winds of change -- or at least breezes of change -- are beginning to blow in Saudi Arabia. True, the source is DEBKAfile, which a friend of TigerHawk's calls "a Likud propaganda organ," but since I'm not sure what Likud propaganda objective is met by this story I'll take it as plausible. Let's see if anybody else picks it up.

I have no idea whether any of this adds up to anything significant -- as I said, my knowledge of the region is perhaps a notch above that of any concerned citizen, at best. But if you add to this the Libyan capitulation on WMD, the recent silence of Hezbollah, the pause of Hamas, and the direct U.S. - Iran contact since the catastrophe of Bam, it looks like there is more favorable activity in the region since the Oslo breakthrough in 1994 and the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel in 1995.


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