The Middle East is without a doubt a time bomb. Most of the governments are basically unstable and ready to topple. Syria has been at war within itself. Over 400,000 Syrians have died as of April of 2016 and there appears to be no end in sight. Recently, a senior American Intelligence official warned that the Syrian conflict could last many years. It could easily spread to neighboring countries. Every day, thousands of Syrians seek protection and medical care in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq. Millions of people have fled across Syria’s borders. It is a major immigration issue in Europe.
Egypt has taken center stage along with the Syrians. The United States is caught in a bind as it is not sure who to support or where to give its foreign policy money. President Obama is touting democracy but this message takes on a hollow tone as the Egyptian military installed a new leader and began rounding up its ousted president and his supporters. Additionally, Egypt has its own private version of a time bomb with joblessness among people under 30 years of age at 74%! Overall unemployment is listed at 13.2% but like the United States, it measures only those people currently seeking work and has written off the hundreds of thousands of people that have given up seeking employment. So whether it is President Mubarak, President Morsi, or the Muslim Brotherhood, more than 1 million people have swelled the ranks of Egyptian unemployed since 2010. Eight out of 10 jobless Egyptians are under 30. Egypt faces years of unrest until this problem can be addressed.
Unless there is some resolution to the Palestinian situation soon, sheer demographics will make Gaza and the West Bank explode. The high birth rate among Palestinians is the core issue facing Israel. It is 20% higher than the Israeli growth. There are 11.6 million Palestinians, 4.4 million live within the East Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and 1.4 million live within Israel itself. In a few decades, Arabs will outnumber Jews within the land of Israel. Israel cannot keep the Palestinians bottled up in a geographical prison for long. Something will have to be decided or there will be a civil war within Israel on a gigantic scale.
Israel is surrounded by its enemies and some say is “living on borrowed time.” As of April of 2013, there were 8,018,000 Jews living in Israel. The United States continues to back Israel but the existence of Israel and this support could be tentative going forward. Israel is being forced to defend itself actively. Recently, an Israeli official said that “Israel is determined to continue to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah.” Israel has put itself in a position to possibly attack Syria. There is no question of a possible Israeli attack against Iran if Iran reaches a point where a nuclear weapon is close to being built. So the question becomes, how many countries can Israel attack without being placed in a position where multiple countries in turn attack Israel? Current estimates are that Israel has roughly 200 nuclear warheads. This is enough to start a world war that could spread to other parts of the world.
As Iran’s nuclear program continues to evolve, the United States will confront a series of critical policy choices involving complex considerations and trade-offs. The United States will need to find ways to reassure its partners in the region of the credibility of the U. S. deterrent posture to reduce other nation’s interest in developing their own nuclear weapons and dissuade Israel from pursuing unilateral military action of its own. This will be no easy task and, if not successful, could almost guarantee the start of war in the Middle East. When one considers the other countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Yemen, Turkey and Iraq, the fear of war grows. I am not sure what can be done, but the situation continues to deteriorate. Could China or Russia become involved? Absolutely. There is no doubt in my mind that the Middle East is a time bomb ticking with a shorter and shorter fuse.
DONALD WITTMER is a retired business executive who held key roles in the automotive and banking sectors. For a time, he also served as a Fiscal Agency Manager for the Detroit branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree from Cincinnati’s Xavier University, an M.A. in business management from Central Michigan University, and earned certification in bank operations from the School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A husband, father, and grandfather, he teaches part-time at the Kent Place School for Girls in Summit, New Jersey.