By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
The situation in Syria is spiraling downward. The country is inching towards full scale civil war. Violence is increasingly sustained and the Syrian regime seems unable to stop the opposition.
At the same time, we are watching an open Cold War between Saudi Arabia and Iran with Syria as the battle ground. The Saudi King publicly said (and, remember, the Saudis are very reluctant to say things publicly) to the Russian President that any dialogue with Syria is "futile" - that we need to push the regime of Bashar al-Assad out. The Iranians, on the other side, are warning the outside world against intervening in Syria.
This is all a huge security boon for Israel. Iran - the country that Israel views as its principle threat in the region - is finding itself in a very weakened position because it chose to go all-in on Syria. Iran made the decision to simply to back the Syrian regime no matter what and now they're getting further and further isolated. The Russians have stopped publicly speaking out in favor of Syria. The Chinese have never been very vocal. And the Iraqis, who had initially taken a relatively supportive position, have retreated.
The Iranians are almost alone in supporting the Syrian regime now and this leaves them suffering humiliation and enormous cash outflows to support this regime. At the end of the day, Iran is backing a sinking ship. It seems highly unlikely that two years from now al-Assad will be in power.
In addition to that, the Iranians are feeling the pressure of sanctions and further isolation. I think that U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, was right to say that this would not be a prudent time to attack Iran. Doing so would completely change the debate. Right now, the discussion revolves around Iran’s support of Syria. If Iran is attacked, it would transform the debate into one about a western-supported attack on a Muslim country. It would completely change Iran's political and military calculus. At the very least, now would seem to be the wrong time to strike Iran.
Meanwhile, we are seeing Yemen's leader Ali Abdullah Saleh finally leaving office, potentially auguring a period of instability in Yemen. Outside of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, Yemen has had probably the strongest al Qaeda cells in the world. This is something to watch very carefully.
The Obama Administration has been inclined to play a balancing act in Yemen of supporting a democratic transition while also trying not to isolate President Saleh who has been very cooperative on counterterrorism. We’ll see if that balancing act can continue as a new regime comes to power.
In Afghanistan you have the reoccurrence of perhaps an inevitable phenomenon - lots of troops in a country where they are not as familiar with cultural sensitivities. Things go wrong that inflame local passions and nationalism.
And in Egypt, you have the trial of the nineteen Americans.
I'm struck at how in this one week you have seen – from Afghanistan to Yemen to Syria to Iran to Egypt – all these places at a boil. One reason for this, I suspect, is that oil is at over $105 a barrel. This adds to a very tense situation where any one of the places could spill over into something even more serious.