By Josh Block, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Josh Block is CEO & president of the Israel Project, a 501c3 nonpartisan organization based in Washington D.C. A former Clinton administration official at USAID, Block was also a member of the senior staff at AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobby. You can follow him @JoshBlockDC. The views expressed are his own.
The months leading up to yesterday’s Israeli election were filled with confident forecasting. Israeli voters, analysts told us, were turning rightward and even losing confidence in the Jewish state's democratic institutions. Voter turnout would slouch toward all-time lows, and remaining voters would empower a government that was, depending on a pundit’s particular verve, “hardline,” “extremist,” “ultra-nationalist,” – or even worse.
Israeli voters, however, had other ideas. And now many of those pundits are expressing surprise at the turnout and composition of Israel’s 19th Knesset.
By Jon Alterman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jon Alterman is head of the Middle East program for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The views expressed are his own.
Much of the talk about the U.S. “Pivot to Asia” has one thing wrong: it is not a pivot away from the Middle East. That is not to say that some in the Obama administration don’t wish they could pivot away from the Middle East, or that the U.S. Central Command isn’t exhausted from fighting wars for more than a decade. Both are true. Instead, it is to say that Asia’s ties to the Middle East are growing vigorously, and a U.S. commitment to Asian security necessarily means the United States inherits Asia’s growing interests in the Middle East.
The United States cannot pull out of the Middle East. Rather, its increasing engagement with Asia means that it is increasingly getting pulled into the Middle East, although from the other side.
Watch GPS special 'Memo to the President' on CNN this Sunday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET
By Michael Rubin, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School. The views expressed are his own.
In the first months of his presidency, Barack Obama laid out his vision for the Middle East. “If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us,” he told the Arabic satellite channel Al-Arabiya in his first television interview as president. Six months later, in Cairo, he proposed “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect…[and] principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
Unfortunately, Obama has not backed his lofty vision with coherent strategy. Since the Arab Spring protests caught not only regional autocrats but also Washington by surprise, U.S. policy has been reactive rather than pro-active. Far from shaping events, the White House struggles to keep up with events that increasingly spin out of control.
By Fareed Zakaria
Opponents of Chuck Hagel's nomination to be the U.S.'s next Secretary of Defense claim he is outside the mainstream in his views on Israel. Hagel's actual policy positions don't reflect that. On many issues, he sounds a lot like Israeli President Shimon Peres, who lamented in an interview published Jan. 9 by the New York Times that Israel was not doing enough to make peace. In any event, Hagel's views on Israel are irrelevant, since policy on that issue will be set by the White House and Congress. Where Hagel does appear out of the mainstream is on Iran, which is a good thing because Washington desperately needs fresh thinking on the topic.
In 2013, perhaps in the next few months, President Obama will face a crisis on Iran. He has categorically ruled out living with a nuclear-armed Iran under a Cold War–style policy of containment. That means either Iran will capitulate to U.S. demands or the U.S. will go to war with Iran. Since the first option is extremely unlikely and the second extremely unattractive, the Obama Administration needs to find a negotiated solution. That means using sticks and carrots–or what is often called coercive diplomacy–to get a deal that Washington and Tehran can live with.
By Ravi Agrawal, CNN
The Arab Spring was a series of seismic, historic events. But 2012 shows the term itself is no longer a useful description. Spring implies a summer and a winter to follow – neither season is an apt adjective. And can we really club the Arab world together under one banner? Each country has undergone its own revolution and is moving on its own divergent trajectory. That trend will accelerate in 2013.
Economists point to one factor that influences countries in the Middle East and North Africa above all others: oil. Consider that of all the regimes to fall during the Arab revolutions of the last two years, not a single one was an oil exporter. Petro-states have the funds to keep their people satisfied. So I was surprised when I looked at the International Monetary Fund’s latest growth outlook. It projects that the region’s oil exporters (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq) will have grown by 5.3 percent in 2012. Oil importers (Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Sudan, Lebanon, Jordan) will have grown only 1.2 percent. But come 2013, that disparity will shift. The IMF projects that oil exporters will slow to 3.8 percent growth while oil importers will speed up to 3.3 percent growth.
This is the latest in a series of entries looking at what we can expect in 2013. Each weekday, a guest analyst will look at the key challenges facing a selected country – and what next year might hold in store.
By Mark N. Katz, Special to CNN
Mark Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University, and is the author of ‘Leaving without Losing: The War on Terror after Iraq and Afghanistan.’
In addition to its ongoing economic problems, which are unlikely to be overcome next year, there are three potential crises that could affect Iran in 2013. One is the possibility of public unrest concerning the succession to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who cannot run for a third consecutive term as president. Another possibility is the incapacitation or death of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei setting off a power struggle to succeed him which also results in public unrest. A third possibility is that the Iranian nuclear crisis boils over, and either the U.S. or Israel (or both) launch an armed attack to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The next Iranian presidential election is scheduled to take place on June 14, 2013. The leadership of the Islamic Republic very much wants to avoid the outburst of opposition that occurred in response to the widely-disbelieved announcement that Ahmadinejad had won re-election by a wide margin in June 2009. New regulations that further tighten clerical control over who is allowed to run for president are likely to be put into effect which even some regime insiders – most notably President Ahmadinejad himself – have voiced objection to. If indeed the only candidates allowed to run for president are just those few approved by the regime, the Iranian public may come to regard the entire presidential election process as illegitimate. With the downfall of long-ruling leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen (and possibly Syria by mid-2013) providing role models for what popular uprisings can accomplish, the Iranian public may launch a more concerted effort in response to what it regards as an illegitimate presidential election outcome in 2013 than it did in 2009.
By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of Global Economic Attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own.
The pace of change in the Middle East – in Syria, Egypt, Palestine and Israel – is accelerating as 2012 draws to a close. And the centripetal force generated by these developments threatens to draw the United States ever deeper into the region. But as the Obama administration considers what role the United States can and should play there in the months ahead, the White House faces a political dilemma at home. The American people are not paying attention and are deeply skeptical of greater U.S. engagement in a corner of the world that looks increasingly unstable.
The spreading turmoil in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring has soured American attitudes toward the region’s prospects and has not increased Americans’ appetites for greater U.S. involvement there.
In April 2011, not long after the fall of the autocratic Tunisian and Egyptian governments, the American public was divided over whether such changes in political leadership would lead to lasting improvements for people living in those countries, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
This is the second in a series of entries looking at what we can expect in 2013. Each weekday, a guest analyst will look at the key challenges facing a selected country – and what next year might hold in store.
By Steve Linde, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Steve Linde is editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post. The views expressed are his own.
Life in the Holy Land is often intense and seldom boring, and the country has captured the attention of the international news media for almost 65 years. This is not likely to change in 2013. Although Israel has a population of only eight million, almost every day generates unexpected and exciting developments. While journalists are not prophets, I would suggest that there are six key challenges facing the Jewish state in the year ahead:
National elections – Israel is all set for what promises to be an interesting national election on January 22, with 34 lists registered to run. A strong right-wing list comprising Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling Likud party and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is our Home) is facing off against a splintered Center and Left that includes, inter alia, Shelly Yacimovich's Labor, the Tzipi Livni Party, Yair Lapid¹s Yesh Atid (There is a Future) and Shaul Mofaz¹s Kadima. Current polls show the now merged Likud-Beiteinu list comfortably ahead, with about a third of the seats in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel's parliament. But with growing discontent over the current government¹s foreign and socioeconomic policies, Likud- Beiteinu may in fact win fewer seats than its two component parties have in the current Knesset (42).
By Jonathan Adelman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jonathan Adelman is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. The views expressed are his own.
The rapid rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt after the deposing of Hosni Mubarak last year prompted many observers to see an Islamist Egypt as inevitable. After all, the Muslim Brotherhood was the best organized and most popular political party in Egypt, the opposition was divided, there was little Western support for the secular opposition and the United States welcomed Muslim Brotherhood delegations to meet White House officials. Most recently, it worked openly with President Mohamed Morsy to achieve a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict. All this seemed to many to be a rough replay of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
Yet, as the mass demonstrations against the Muslim Brotherhood recently in Tahrir Square and across Egypt have shown, an Islamic Egypt, while still likely, is far from inevitable.
Successful revolutions are usually led by charismatic leaders with strong political intuition – think Mao, Lenin, Tito, Castro and Ayatollah Khomeini. All personified their revolutions and drove the masses on to victory. But Morsy is no Ayatollah Khomeini, who embodied revolutionary mysticism and spent a lifetime steeped in political thought. The reality is that Morsy lacks charisma, and spent his life gaining a PhD and chairing an Egyptian engineering school until 2010. His abrupt and radical moves belie a lack of political savoir faire.
By Isobel Coleman, CFR
Isobel Coleman is a senior fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy and director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Democracy in Development originally appeared here. The views expressed are her own.
Egypt’s constitutional assembly pulled an all-nighter last week to hastily approve a controversial draft of a new constitution. However, the constitutional battle is far from over. Yesterday, protests rocked the country, and a crowd of some 100,000 people staged a so-called “last warning” demonstration near the presidential palace against President Morsy’s heavy-handed tactics. In addition, hundreds of journalists marched on Tahrir and at least a dozen of the country’s independent newspapers did not publish to protest against Morsy’s “dictatorship.”
The battle now moves to December 15, when Egyptians are slated to vote on the constitution in a national referendum. Liberal and secular opponents of Morsy, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the draft constitution are urging widespread civil disobedience to derail the vote; on the other hand, the Brotherhood and its allies are portraying a “yes” vote as crucial for restoring stability to the country and moving forward. Given Egyptians’ weariness of nearly two years of political paralysis and economic dislocation, the Brotherhood’s arguments for stability could easily carry the day.
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.
By Fareed Zakaria
Yasser Arafat’s body has been exhumed for investigation, bringing back memories of the unpredictable Palestinian leader and the Middle East in which he operated. That news broke just as a conventional wisdom began to take hold that the Middle East today is much more dangerous, unstable, violent and anti-American than before. Let's take a look at the facts.
In the 1980s, the newly empowered, radical Islamic Republic of Iran unsettled the Middle East with its promise to spread its revolution to the rest of the region. The other powerful players were despots like Saddam Hussein and Hafez Assad, backed and supplied with arms by the Soviet Union. Lebanon was in the midst of a bloody civil war that engulfed not only itself but also the Palestinians and Israel. Iran and Iraq fought a gruesome war with over 1 million casualties. Hezbollah attacked U.S. armed forces directly, forcing a humiliating withdrawal from Lebanon. A CIA station chief was tortured and killed, and U.S. secrets and interests compromised. And that was just in one decade!
Watch the video for the full Take.