Amidst the statement by the White House’s official for the Middle East and North Africa [MENA] about the progress that has been made by US Peace Envoy George Mitchell which will pave the way for direct Palestinian – Israeli negotiations, which was something that the Palestinians responded to by inquiring about the nature of this progress, and the report by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon about the rise in tensions in southern Lebanon and the fears of miscalculation and the return of military operations which would have a devastating impact upon Lebanon and the entire region, it seems that the entire regional scene is extremely contradictory, as if there is a race taking place between war and peace.
In this context, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has issued repeated statements, particularly during his current [international] tour, warning against war breaking out due to the absence of peace in the region. The most recent statement was issued on Sunday and made reference to Washington’s inability to manage the peace process in the region despite being the major party that everybody is counting on. There is also the statement issued by Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Musa during his latest visit to Lebanon in which he ruled out the possibility of a war breaking out.
Tensions have intensified over the past few months, particularly on the southern Lebanese front, amidst reports that claim that missiles and new weapons have been received by Hezbollah there. Tensions further increased following the bloody attack carried out by Israel on the Freedom Flotilla that was carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. This incident ignited new tensions between Israel and Turkey, and the situation continued to escalate to the point that Ankara threatened to cut off ties [with Israel]. This would mean that Damascus has lost the mediator that was sponsoring its indirect negotiations with Israel which were postponed following the invasion of Gaza.
All of this means that there is enough suspicion, tension and frustration to spark a sudden flare-up in the region, especially as all of this is connected with an even more volatile issue, namely the Iranian nuclear program and the conflict between Tehran and the western powers, and Iran’s utilization of Arab fronts to consolidate and strengthen its position in its confrontation with the West.
On the other hand, it might be something of an exaggeration to use the term “war” when looking at the situation from a regional viewpoint. There is a considerable lack of motive for such a scenario whether on the Israeli or Arab side. There are also no international parties or forces whose interests will be served by this, and this is not to mention the desire to give the Obama administration the chance to achieve a breakthrough that would ease tensions in the region.
The talk that is scheduled to take place between the US President and the Israeli Prime Minister this week during the latter’s postponed visit to Washington will be an opportunity to determine the direction that the region is moving in, and whether the statements about bridging the gap between the Palestinians and Israelis were baseless optimism or based upon tangible facts on the ground.
In general, a significant accomplishment or breakthrough is required in the region as there is a high state of impatience and frustration at the lack of anything happening. Therefore there is strong evidence on the ground for talk about miscalculation, while the friction in southern Lebanon with the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon [UNIFIL] is also dangerous.