Assuming that the just announced extended ceasefire or truce between Israel and the Palestinians (Hamas) holds, President Obama and U.S. allies can now focus on Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Libya which are becoming more engaging and dangerous daily. Ironically, if ever there was a need for proof that solving the Arab-Israeli conflict is not the key to bringing peace to the region; one need only look at the daily news to check on all the regional conflicts which keep growing and intensifying, as this round of the Palestinian conflict winds down. There goes another Arab myth.
The seriousness of the recent confrontations in Libya now adds to the regional plate. It also raises two critical questions; one related to the nations in the Middle East and the other to the role of the superpowers in solving any of these conflicts. With regards to both of these questions, it is readily apparent that the role of the U.S. has been significantly reduced; evidence the fact that it was not the U.S. but apparently Egypt which negotiated the ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas. The Sisi Government—backed by many regional powers–thus emerged as the force to mediate the regional conflict. (How this will ultimately affect Israel is a discussion still to be addressed, but at first blush it does not appear to be adversely.)
It is evident from the events which are transpiring all over the Middle East that radical Islam is now the leading political and military force in the region having no national base and traversing all national boundaries. The Islamic State or ISIS has seized the moment as this non-national force so much so that many of the regimes in the region are confronting it not only religiously, but militarily and politically.
There are new regional arrangements. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, the Palestinians and (indirectly and unofficially) Israel are in cahoots with respect to confronting Hamas. Turkey and Qatar appear to be supporting Hamas and the ISIS forces. Egypt and the Emirates are together in seeking to confront the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya. In Iraq, the internecine fighting between Sunnis and Shiites is both an internal historical religious confrontation but with the more moderate elements on both sides being confronted by ISIS. At the same there are attacks from numerous sources against the Kurds and a major confrontation by radical Islamists with non-Muslims, including mass conversions or death. The Islamic State continues to seek to overthrow all that the U.S. blood and treasure sought to create in Iraq and to radicalize the anti-Assad forces in Syria as well. (The tragic beheading of American journalist James Foley appears to have truly energized the Obama Administration to consider even an array of military options.) Meanwhile the P5+1-Iran talks continue to drag along unresolved.
There is a major question in all these events which is troubling and is not clear. It may also point to the decline of the U.S.’s global role. When did U.S. intelligence begin to identify and report on the growth and power of ISIS as a potentially major destabilizing force in the region? Was the White House ambivalent or even in denial about the threat or did the intelligence community miss the signals? Were there political forces in the region—or among our allies–that restrained the U.S. from adopting a more aggressive posture earlier?