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Middle East preview of 2011 / Every year is pivotal for the Middle East. But in 2011 the pivots are clearer than they have ever been (TELEGRAPH UK) By Richard Spencer 12/24/10) Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/8219397/Middle-East-preview-of-2011.html DAILY TELEGRAPH DAILY TELEGRAPH Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Can Iran escape military action for another 12 months? Can peace hold in Israel and the West Bank? Can the West avoid a major al-Qaeda attack? The questions have been asked before, but they get louder.

Meanwhile ageing regimes, such as Egyptís dictatorship and Saudi Arabiaís royal gerontocracy, will come face to face with the uncertainty of their futures.

1. Iran

The Western powers really do not want America to bomb Iran. Its Arab Gulf neighbours, according to Wikileaks, do. Israel sends mixed messages - presumably by design.

For years, scare-mongers have said Iran is but a few months away from building a nuclear weapon. They were wrong in the past, and may be again, but this time it is doing at least two things required to make this alleged dream come true. They are designing longer-range missiles, and they are enriching uranium to higher grades.

The odds are against military action in 2011, but by the end of the year all bets will be off.

2. Egypt

Egyptís fast-growing but impoverished population is well aware of its reduced status in the Arab world. Its decline has coincided with the rule of President Hosni Mubarak, a man who has maintained stability but who inspires warmth and trust in neither his people nor his American backers. At the age of 82, he may stand for yet another term in elections this year. Or he may put forward his son, Gamal, in his place. In either case, will he allow a real contest, perhaps against Mohammed ElBaradei, the former head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog? Not many think so.

3. Saudi Arabia

Unnoticed by those for whom the kingdom is a source of nothing but oil and trouble, King Abdullah has overseen a period of limited reform. There´s a mixed-sex university, a couple of human rights groups, and a formalised succession process. Unfortunately, that process looks increasingly flawed, as it envisions power passing from the king, who is 87 and currently in hospital, to Crown Prince Sultan, who 82 and has been sick, and then to Prince Nayef, who is 76, conservative, and also thought to be sick. Open discussion of alternatives is one reform yet to be made.

4. Lebanon

There has often been war in Lebanon, and when there is peace it is usually accompanied by the adjective "fragile". Just how fragile will be exposed when a United Nations Special Tribunal says who it believes assassinated former prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005. Hezbollah are in the frame, and have threatened untold retaliation if arrests are made, setting up a test of wills between the western- backed government and its Iranian-backed adversary.

5. Israelis versus the Palestinians

The breakdown of the latest peace talks, this time over settlements, may just be a reversion to the norm. But with the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, humiliated, and Israel showing that it will concede to no-one, not even the United States, can that status quo hold? Iran has many reasons to distract attention from itself in 2011. With Hizbollah on the march in Lebanon, might its other ally, Hamas, open a second front? The strands of Middle East politics are disparate, but when they are pulled together, the result is often catastrophe. (© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2010. 12/24/10)


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