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Crystal Ball 2007: The ball is clouded

01/07/2007

As in past years, I venture to peer into the future for 2007, with the advice and consent of friends. 2006 was a tumultuous and surprising year. Statistically, our predictions held up pretty will - they were correct 70% of the time. However, that should not hide our failure to predict the election of Hamas and the war in Lebanon, both major events that could have been foreseen.

This year, however, there are too many deadlocks and situations waiting to ripen, and many predictions would be random guesses at outcomes.

What we may dare to predict:

Afghanistan
The situation in Afghanistan will continue to deteriorate.

The Taliban spring offensive for 2007 may be so large as to get the attention of Washington and disturb relations with Pakistan.

Egypt
Egypt will take an increasingly independent stance as it perceives that the US is weakened in the Middle East, and as President Mubarak perceives the need to provide foreign policy diversions that quell the opposition and distract attention from repressive moves at home.

Constitutional changes will have no substantive effect.

The government will promote nuclear technology and make more announcements to this effect, and perhaps substantive moves, both as a symbol of its independence and a counterweight to Iran.

There will be further moves against the Muslim Brotherhood. However, the group will not be suppressed entirely.

Iran
Sanctions - The UN, urged on by the US, will pass further resolutions penalizing Iran for continuing to enrich uranium.

Uranium Enrichment - Iran will ignore the resolutions and world pressure, and continue its nuclear development program

The US will not attack Iran.

Israel will not attack Iran (Sunday Times to the contrary notwithstanding).

Iraq
The surge - U.S. President Bush will ask for, and get, approval for 20,000 additional soldiers in Iraq, despite serious opposition. The announcement has already been leaked. Congress will not oppose the move seriously. If they did block the move, Bush could blame failure in Iraq on the Democrat - controlled congress. Likewise, an additional aid package will be approved.

The situation - The additional troops will not make a decisive difference in the security and political situation, which will continue to deteriorate.

Regugees - -Internal displacement of Iraqis and the flight of Iraqi refugees across international borders will draw increasing attention. If present trends continue, large-scale Iraqi refugee populations may eventually become destabilizing factors in Jordan and Syria, although this is not to be expected in 2007.

Allies - Gulf states and other US Middle East allies will gradually distance themselves increasingly from US policies, as the failure in Iraq becomes more certain, and as they are increasingly convinced that the US does not have the will or the competence to back its allies. The recent replacement of the Saudi ambassador, a prince, with a less prestigious individual, might be a move in that direction, as well as the very vocal Egyptian and Saudi complaints about the manner of execution of Saddam Hussein.

ISG - Most of the ISG report recommendations will not be implemented:
- Those related to the Iraqi government will not be implemented because it is not possible to implement them.

- The Bush administration will not set a deadline for leaving Iraq.

- Iraq funding will still be handled by a separate budgetary request.

- Oil industry will not be privatized owing to Iraqi government opposition and a lack of buyers.

Israel
The government of Ehud Olmert will not fall, as coalition partners fear the results of new elections.

Amir Peretz will be replaced as leader of the Labor party in party primaries.

Israel and the Palestinians
US peace initiative - The US will launch an effort to get Israel and Palestinian President Abbas to agree to formation of a Palestinian state in temporary borders, without putting an end to violence. This initiative has already been bruited in the press. The goal is to show progress in the Israeli-Palestinian track as recommended in the Iraq Study Group report, and to use the occasion of new elections in the newly formed state to unseat the Hamas government. A similar initiative has also been hinted at by Israeli FM Tzippi Livni and a variant has just been proposed by Israel Labor party leader Amir Peretz. Prospects for success are cloudy.

Rockets - Rocket fire from Gaza will continue despite the truce.

Criminal Investigations - There will be further news about major criminal investigations into high level officials including PM Olmert and others. The resolution of the case against President Katsav is uncertain.

Prisoner Exchange - Hostage Gilad Shalit will be exchanged for a large number of Palestinian prisoners. Admittedly, there is no basis for this prediction other than human concern for Shalit and the probability that it would occur in the framework of the diplomatic initiative discussed above. The Syrians may block any deal.

Israel and Lebanon
Prisoner Exchange - No prediction - rumors of a prisoner exchange may or may not signal release of the Israeli hostages in return for a large number of Palestinian prisoners and convicted murderer Samir Kuntar.

Border - The Israel-Lebanon border will remain quiet.

Lebanon
Confrontation between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government will escalate in stages. The resolution is unclear.

If the international tribunal to try the murderers of Rafiq Hariri ever convenes, results of the trial will not conclusively implicate the Syrian government.

Oil Prices
Prices will range between $50 and $70. OPEC will institute production cuts if prices fall any further. The upper range would be reached only in the event of another panic regarding confrontation with Iran.

Palestine
Hamas - Fatah rivalry and violence will intensify. Resolution is uncertain and depends in part on success of American efforts to unseat Hamas.

Syria and Israel
Syria will make further peace overtures to Israel.

The peace overtures, if they occur, will be rejected. The US is more interested in progress on the Palestinian track, and in isolating Syria. The government of Ehud Olmert is not strong enough to contemplate returning the Golan heights.

Guerrilla/Terrorist force- Syria, as it announced, will begin to build a semi-official state-sponsored terrorist group on the model of Hezbollah, whose mission is to provoke Israeli attacks in the north, in order to exert pressure on Israel regarding the Golan. It is not certain that this force will be in place and operating in 2007. The Lebanese Hezbollah may play a prominent role in this campaign, allowing them to circumvent UNIFIL in Lebanon and attack Israel through the Golan.

Sleepers and Jokers
Assassinations - In the Palestinian areas, there was at least one attempt to kill Palestinian P.M. Hanniyeh in 2006. There may be further attempts on him as well as attempts on President Abbas and others. Likewise, Lebanon and Iraq may be be rocked by killing of officials and political figures as part of terrorist attacks.

Health Issues - President Mubarak of Egypt is of an advanced age. His removal from the scene would create an uncertain situation in Egypt. The rumored death of Ali Khameinei in Iran, if true, will not have immediate political effects.

Hamas Boycott - Look for increasing European and Arab pressure to find an excuse to lift the boycott of the Palestinian Hamas led government, as the US steps up its support for President Abbas. This issue is a useful bargaining chip for creating leverage to influence US policy as well as providing an alternative to it.

Precipitating Incidents - Hamas and other extremist groups may stage large scale terror attacks or kidnappings in to order to help resolve domestic political issues. A Qassam rocket could hit "sensitive" installations near Ashdod and cause major damage and fatalities. These could precipitate an Israeli invasion or large scale attack on Gaza.

Syria - The possibility of a war between Israel and Syria in 2007 cannot be ignored. A war was predicted by some Israeli intelligence sources. It could be precipitated by attacks of the Syrian instigated guerilla force.

Summary and Disclaimer - The situations to watch include: Afghanistan, two prisoner exchanges, Hezbollah confrontation with Lebanese government, Iraq insurgency, Iran nuclear development issue, Israeli-Palestine peace, Hamas-Fateh confrontation, Syria-Israel confrontation, Hamas versus quartet. Resolution of most of these issues is uncertain.

Ami Isseroff


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Replies: 1 Comment

Actually i think the situation in Afghanistan will continue to deteriorate, then, like many other conflicts, will suddenly become very hostile

Posted by Fat Panda @ 02/02/2007 05:18 PM CST


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