Arlington, VA February 15, 2012
Oil as a variable
To say that the Mideast is a tinderbox is perhaps a misnomer. Rather, it appears the fuses are already lit and, as usual, the US will be in the middle, primarily due to the ineptitude and stupidity of the Obama Administration.
The most important problem is, in my view, not Israel-Iran, as many think, but a more basis conflict--the production and delivery of oil. We still have major conflicts ongoing in Bahrain, Syria, Egypt, and Libya--all contributing to the ever-fluctuating prices of oil at the barrel-head. Until these regional flareups settle down, especially those in Egypt and Libya, there cannot be any stabilization of oil prices.
Much of this instability is tied to the greed, not of the producers, but from the refiners and distributors. if one looks honestly at the oil market, it does not take a genius to realize that prices above those set by OPEC and others are set by the same distributors that bought the early through futures purchases months or even years earlier. let's say for a moment that their price at the pipe was $60.00 a barrel for delivery in twelve months. The market immediately takes over and the price rises because of 'market turmoil' to the extent that--a year later--that $60 oil is now $90 oil just as it is now out of the pipe today--a great profit for the distributors. Take instability in Egypt, Libya, or even Greece and the price goes even higher long before the delivery and payment for the oil futures is required.
Add to that instability a number of conflicts, such as that in Bahrain, which affects the Saudi oil market, and even more instability occurs in both pricing and availability.
There are also a number of sources that point to the US - a major oil importer -- as one of the real problems in this set of equations. US refiners have large supplies of oil, much of it heavier oil, although lighter oil for gasoline is also stored, and they are carefully limiting their refining and distribution processes to drive up the prices even further. That doesn't help anyone, except the refiners that generally support the Obama administration with contributions.
Bottom line --oil is a major factor in the larger equation of Mideast peace.
Israel as a variable
The majority of the Mideast countries, despite their public statements, do not like Israel in their midst. Nor do they like the attitude of the current Israeli administation that continues to try to beat down both Hamas and the Fatah. In turn, Israel, relying on the US and its UN Security Council majority, could care less about true peace, relying on enforced cease fires with occasional invasions by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Whenever they choose.
The argument, however, is not about Israel asa country. it is about Israel as a religious entity--one that is anathema to Islam regardless of the individual sect. It must be remembered that, while the Jews have a long history in Palestine, they were absent for many centuries, and other semitic peoples lived on the land that Israel now claims through UN Mandate. Even that mandate was never completely executed and the only people left out were the original Palestinians, who were thrown from their land, given no rights, and displaced even further as European Jews filled the land spaces.
That having been siad, Israel is a recognized country and its citizens have a right to live in peace as well. Unfortunately, neither side really gives way to the other; Israel is the strongest country in the area; its Government is strong and its military powerful; and its people dedicated to peace but prepared for war if needed to retain their space.
Faced on all sides by countries and governments that really do not support them, Israel has a continuing problem of preparation for conflict. Egypt started to close the underground portals to Gaza, but, with the "Arab Spring" has generally stopped that effort, and even opened the above-ground entry points between Egypt and Gaza to convoy trade. Lebanon continues to harass the Israeli border guards and troops, and missiles still fire occasionally from Gaza and the West Bank. Syria is decidedly not a friend of israel but, luckily, is engaged in its own burgeoning civil war.
Importantly, the Israeli people are tired of war and are gradually splitting into both peace-preferred and war-mongering factions. The war faction sees Iran as its greatest threat and it looking for ways to justify its attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. That might be a good idea, but Israel will have only one shot at that country, and the real question is whether they have the capability to pull off a complete destruction of those facilitate, the Iranian air defense system, and enough of the Revolutionary Guard and the Iranian Air Force to make their raid a success. The US is already deeply involved in supporting that effort when it comes. We will provide even larger 'bunker buster' bombs, refueling facilities, and everything else they need. We (the US) will also be prepared to condemn their actions should the world not agree--that's the general response from the Obama Administration thus far).
The Israeli peace faction is turning quickly to Palestinian rights and, again, justifiably so. Were the israeli Government to stop the indiscriminate settlement building, and provide rights to the Palestinians that peacefully worked the land for centuries, they might just find an ally for even more peace initiatives. The full terms of peace among the Jews and Muslims will probably never be achieved after the two Intifadas, but it is worth the effort.
That attempt at pace means the US needs to become an honest broker and not just an Israeli ally. The US needs to get out of the daily complaints, and into a view that encourages both EQUALLY toward peace. Perhaps that means stopping much of the $50B in aid that goes out to Israel, or at least predicating the military support aid on real progress toward peace. Support to Israel on Iran is a different issue. Working out peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel through direct negotiations changes the equation, and removes the influence of iran on the issue.
Whatever we decide to do, and whatever Israel decides to do, it needs to happen before the Israelis attempt to destroy Iran. Peace will not come from an incomplete effort.