Arab Winter

The “Arab winter” that began last year with the US-backed military coup in Egypt, is falling fast over Gaza. Provoked initially by Palestinian kidnappings and murders of three Israeli teenagers, the conflict has unfolded into a systematic and one-sided destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure and inhabitants amidst a sharp reshuffling of the regional balance of forces.

The original Arab Spring of January 2011 was marked by the popular overthrow of the Mubarak dictatorship in Cairo, eventually bringing to power Muhammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood through internationally-recognized elections, the first in Egyptian history. Morsi, allied with Hamas, acted as an effective intermediary, brokering an end to the eight-day Israeli assault in Gaza in 2012. Morsi began normalizing trade and diplomatic relations with Hamas as well, while promoting Palestinian unity in the direction of an overall settlement of the conflict. In military terms, Israel could no longer count on a servile Arab ally on the border, as was possible under Mubarak. The balance under Morsi became more symmetrical, usually a necessity to achieving negotiated political settlements.

But now, with Morsi and other leaders in prison, thousands of Brotherhood supporters killed, and full suppression of democratic rights under the Cairo military dictatorship, Israel has regained a strategic ally against Hamas and the Palestinians. When Cairo finally called for a Gaza cease-fire after a week of bloodshed, the Sisi government did not even go through the motions of consulting first with Hamas, emphasizing Sisi’s new tilt towards Israel, the United States, and even Saudi Arabia. Hamas continues trying to assert a strategic initiative with the numbers and range of rockets being fired into Israel, but those weapons inflict few casualties and consolidate the unity of all Israelis regardless of their disagreements with the Netanyahu government. It remains possible for Hamas to claim that they have “deterred” an Israeli ground assault, if one doesn’t occur. But Israel has a free hand in deciding whether to make that “concession” before the pressures of the international powers.

Meanwhile in Washington, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, remains a lonely opponent of delivering millions in US aid to the Sisi regime. Under American law, such aid should be terminated immediately because of the military coup in July 2013 that brought Sisi to power. The Obama administration has few allies wishing to call the coup by its formal name, however.

And across the Middle East, sectarian wars continue to ravage any hope of unity and development. The new victims in Gaza are being added to 2.5 million dislocated refugees from Syria’s civil war between the Alawite minority and the Sunni majority. In Iraq, where the sectarian balance is reversed, 2.8 million “internally-displaced” persons wander the sectarian rubble. Yemen, Libya and North Africa are bleeding without any diplomatic tourniquets around. The Islamic winners in Tunisia have stepped down from office to avoid a bloodbath. Turkey is precarious. Jordan is flooded with refugees well beyond its capacity. Bahrain remains under Sunni-minority rule. Iran and Saudi Arabia continue their contest for regional hegemony, while the Israelis and Americans continue to embrace an aging, unstable petroleum oligarchy. Tiny Qatar, home to Al Jazeera, continues its frail attempts at regional diplomacy while Hollywood and Wall Street make lucrative deals before the sands run out.

The counter-revolution against the Arab Spring seems complete. A darker violence may await, not the “quiet” that Netanyahu insists upon.

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