Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Let’s talk geopolitics -2 (presenting the game)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/02/2007

Four different elements grab the geopolitician’s eye:
– Ressources (usually oil and water in the Middle East): who has them, who needs them, who wants to grab them.
– Military power (size really matters but so do certain gruesome weapons be they nuclear, chemical or biological)
– Political alliances (with a couple of keywords such as “equilibrium”, “balance”, “axes”, “shifting”, “strategic”, “tactical”…)
– Minorities (Ethnic, intellectual, economical…) and their interactions.

Any region in the world has plenty of those, but the Middle East seems particularly blessed. Geopolitical analysts have grown accustomed to a sort of balance of power (or a dissuasive equilibrium of threats) between Israel and “the rest” (Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, Egyptians, Jordanians…) which keeps the region tense but mostly quiet (on a sort of bumpy yet regular ride). This equilibrim survived the end of the cold war even though the US was slowly trying to change the rules of the game (without necessarily upsetting the equilibrium) by supporting an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict (without necessarily solving the problems connected to it).
In many ways this strategy was gaining ground: The Israeli government showed little resistance to America’s grand scheme and most of the Arab regimes were in favour of an end to the conflict especially in the Golf region and the Maghreb (though many continued to publicly deny that).
When the US administration started talking about the Greater Middle East a couple of years ago, little did it know that the Middle Easter equation was going to expand so rapidly, and countries with very little connection to the Arab-Israeli conflict or any other conflict in this region, were going to become major players, and most notably Iran and increasingly Turkey.
This expansion or intrusion (depends on which way you look at it) would bring new elements to the Arab-Israeli conflict and would entangle it with other “problems” such as the Iranian nuclear program, the Kurdish question and the Shiite/Sunni conflict.

Quite unsurprisingly, Lebanon is the place where most of the tensions in the Middle East are expressed. In Lebanon, there is talk of two axes:
– The Syrian-Iranian axis
– The Saoudi-American axis
Unfortunately, such an approach blurs the intricacies and the layering of the geopolitical game (local, regional, international). Any player can be active on one or several layers. And the stakes can be different from one scene (or layer) to another.
Let’s take the Syrian-Iranian axis to which many journalists link Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement.
Well, the Syrian government has become in many ways a client to the Iranian regime. It is threatened by the International Court that the Lebanese government is pushing for with the support of the American and the French governments. It tries to keep a nuisance power in Lebanon and Palestine through its alliance with Hezbollah and Hamas, and through its own intelligence (in Lebanon). It’s position is in no way comparable to Iran, that is positioning itself as a major power in the Middle East and that is threatened by American bases located next to its northern, southern, eastern and western borders. And both governments can hardly be compared to the two Lebanese parties that have a local agenda (some people would argue if Hezbollah actually has one… but that’s another issue). But we are dangerously drifting away from a strictly geopolitical analysis and into a socio-political approach. So let’s go back to discussing geopolitically!
Basically, we have the birth of a regional power that is upsetting the whole regional equilibrium, challenging on one hand what had been the sole regional power (Israel) and, on the other hand, the world’s hyper-power (USA) that has opened Pandora’s box in neighbouring Iraq, bringing to the forefront the Sunni/Shiite rivalry and the Kurdish question… something Turkey cannot ignore (and that forces Turkey into getting involved in the Middle East).
Relatively speaking, Iran functions as Germany did in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century. It upsets the old equilibrium and the challenge it constitutes is not accepted by the other powers. War is somewhat unevitable unless the regional system adapts quickly, integrates and contains the new power (that is still unused to its new strength and could go a little too far to assert it).
In more ways than one, the summer war in Lebanon and Israel is a result of the upsetting of the old equilibrium and the coming about of a new one. The question that we now face it the following: Will this new balance be accepted by the different players and to what extent? If not, what are they to do about it? How ill they react? Are they thinking of any other alternative to the use of force?

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