Prognostication is always a mug’s game, and nowhere more so than in the Middle East. Nevertheless, it’s a fun game to play, especially when the subject is a region so poorly understood by the U.S. mainstream media that it frequently gets blindsided by events.The following seven possibilities are not certain to come to pass, but they’re far more likely to happen than most casual observers and journalists think.
1. Saudi Arabian forces will invade Bahrain as the al-Khalifa loses its grip (as well as the rest of its mind) in dealing with the country’s majority Shi’a population. Washington will protest; the Saudis will point to Iranian aggression and tell us to mind our own business. The UAE will try to mediate U.S.-Saudi disagreement, probably in the confused context of a Saudi succession ordeal with the passing of King Abdallah, and (sort of) succeed.
2. Berbers will rise in Morocco and in Algeria; Amazigh nationalism, taking a cue from coalescing Kurdish nationalism, will demand a new deal from these two Arab governments. They’ll get it, or else.
3. Syria will slide to full-scale Somaliazation as ISIS concentrates itself in the country after having been mostly evicted from Iraq; internal developments within the Alawi community will deteriorate, Alawis will fight each other, threatening the Assad regime from within. Syrian refugees in Lebanon will riot.
4. Egyptian forces will enter eastern Libya to support non-salafi Libyan factions in what will be an off-again/on-again, oscillating and low-level civil war.
5. The center-left will win the March election in Israel; Tzipi Livni will try to lead the country to a phased peace settlement with the Palestinians, now led by Mohammed Dahlan and supported by a released-from-jail Marwan Barghouti. The Obama Administration will be behind the curve on this, and while it may run after developments wanting to help, its mediation will be limited by the parties, who lack trust in U.S. judgment (even though both will want U.S. money). Unfortunately, the effort will appear to come close to success—but will fail as the Palestinians once again choose painless symbols over the hard concessions needed to break the deadlock.
6. The P5/Iranian nuclear negotiations will not produce a deal, because no deal the Obama Administration can get would pass muster in Congress. The superficial thawing of U.S.-Iranian relations will refreeze; marginal violence in a new U.S.-Iranian shadow war will occur as Iran draws ever closer to breakout capacity. Israel will not strike Iran; the Obama Administration will try to buy time via a selected extension of the interim deal as the sanctions regime continues to fray.
7. Violence will erupt in Turkey between AKP and Gulenist factions.Fasten your seat belts, folks! It’s going to be a crazy year.