Surrounding Israel are the two regional tinderboxes whose explosion could occur very soon. Without even considering Iran, it is both Syria and Egypt which are in a state of tension that could produce internal eruptions at any moment.
With reports of over 40,000 Syrians already killed during the last 18 months, and with thousands wounded and having fled the country, the Assad regime is tottering on collapse. The ironic problem in Syria is first what type of regime will replace Assad and even more immediately whether the Assad regime will execute a final blaze against its own people or its enemies–including perhaps even Israel–with the use of chemical and biological weapons. The scary issue will be whether U.S. intelligence will be able to anticipate potential Syrian use of CBW and act before the Assad forces make their desperate move. Failure to act in time could produce devastating and catastrophic consequences.
In Egypt, having seen the Morsi Government play an effective role in bringing about a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, Morsi appears to have grossly overstepped his sense of political power. He is now seeking to convert this diplomatic finesse into an expansion of his own executive power, but he is meeting with widespread opposition.
Not since the original demonstrations in Tahrir Square in the spring of 2010 have masses come out to protest actions of the Government. In this instance the protest is against Morsi. He first eliminated the power of the judiciary to oversee legislative and executive decisions and then called for a public, constitutional referendum on December 15 to ratify this amendment as well as the entire constitution. On both issues Morsi was widely attacked by the pro-democracy forces in Egypt. As a result, Morsi withdrew the proposed judicial restrictions but the nature of his actions sent deep chills through the pro-democracy movement. As a result the referendum scheduled for this Saturday is in jeopardy.
Equally problematic, is the dynamics between the Morsi Government and the Egyptian military. Having been largely sidelined since Morsi took office, it now seems that Morsi is in need of military cover and support to so that he can withstand the pro-democracy protesters rallying against him. The military, which controls approximately 40% of the economy and which employs 12% of the working population, once again has power now to demand a say in the future direction of the country. They may have been Mubarak’s lackeys but they were the ones who maintained quiet borders with Israel and the enormous military aid from the U.S. flowing. It remains to be seen whether Morsi and his supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood are ready to truly move Egypt into a more democratic direction or will they merely be imposing a new authoritarian regime. Will there be a meeting of minds between the three largest blocs—the military, the Brotherhood, and the pro-democracy forces—or will Egypt move deeper into a dangerous standoff.