Friday, October 23, 2009

A Third Intifada?

Eric Trager
20 October 09

On Monday, Jordanian King Abdullah II referred to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “the most serious threat to the stability of the region and the Mediterranean.” Middle East policy analysts should take his warning to heart. After all, in gauging the political trends of the Middle East, the Jordanian monarchy has been among the most reliable barometers historically.

This is partly due to Jordan’s uncomfortable geo-strategic position. Indeed, with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to its west and Iraq to its east, Jordan is uniquely susceptible to the ideological currents and strategic shifts affecting the region’s hottest battle zones. Moreover, Jordan’s imbalanced demography – in particular, the fact that a Hashemite king presides over a Palestinian majority – makes its monarchy particularly wary of any destabilizing signals. These sensitivities create a strong bias in favor of non-ideological, interest-based policy-making, with Jordan shifting its priorities – and, at times, its loyalties – in rapid response to the regional changes that it perceives.

In this vein, Abdullah’s sudden insistence that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “the most serious threat to the stability of the region” represents a critical shift in judgment. Indeed, back in 2004, the Jordanian monarch warned that a looming “Shiite crescent” – a near-contiguous sphere of Iranian influence extending through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories – was the foremost threat to regional stability. Abdullah was prescient: Iran’s interference in Iraq undermined the U.S. war effort, while Tehran’s increased support for Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria solidified an anti-western axis in the Middle East.

Of course, the challenges associated with Iranian ascendancy haven’t been resolved, and dealing with Iran’s ongoing pursuit of nuclear capabilities still tops the U.S.’s Middle East agenda. Still, Abdullah’s shift in priorities towards the Israeli-Palestinian sphere is worth noting, as it constitutes the best open-source indicator that recent Palestinian threats to resume suicide terrorism and launch a third Intifada are not idle chatter. Naturally, the prospect of renewed Israeli-Palestinian fighting – particularly within the West Bank – is far more threatening to Jordan than a nuclear Iran, and Abdullah’s diversion from his former fear of a “Shiite crescent” suggests that the next, bloody chapter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might be fast approaching.

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