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Middle East Updates: Impact on Israel & Regional Balance of Power

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Middle East Updates: Impact on Israel & Regional Balance of Power

The situation in the Middle East remains tense, with new updates coming to light with each passing day.

Yesterday, Haaretz released details from the Israeli Foreign Ministry's annual intelligence estimate, which was presented to Israel's security cabinet a few weeks ago. The report assessed Israel's relationship with its neighbors—focusing specifically on Iran's nuclear plans, the status of peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, and the potential escalation of violence from the Palestinians. Mid-East leaders and analysts are also closely following the situation in Syria and how that is affecting the balance of power in the region.

Iran:

The annual intelligence estimate report states that Iran sees its current actions "as an important tool in solidifying its regional position and as a way to weaken its rivals, including Israel and the United States, and to settle accounts with them."

The United States and Europe enacted sanctions on Iran, which have devalued its currency by 50 percent, but Iran has been undeterred. Last week, Iran refused to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigators to tour its nuclear facilities and IAEA released another report—further confirming findings from November that Iran is developing a weaponized nuclear program.

As military action against Iran remains a hotly debated topic, the Iranian defense minister reiterated threats on Saturday that an Israeli strike would be met by a "crushing response" and would "lead to the collapse of the [Zionist regime]."

Egypt:

Today, at the first session of Egypt's Shura Council (upper parliamentary chamber), a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) was chosen as Speaker. Parliamentary elections were completed last week, and the Islamists (FJP and the ultraconservative Salafi al-Nour Party) won 70 percent of the People's Assembly (lower chamber) and 80 percent of the Shura Council.

The Foreign Ministry's intelligence report noted that, "[Egypt's] Supreme Military Council is aware of the benefits of the peace agreement, but even there, there are some elements that are dissatisfied with parts of the agreement." It is expected that the new Egyptian government will reevaluate the agreement, specifically the regulations on Egypt's military presence in the Sinai.

Security concerns on the border remain a pressing issue for Israel, with the Israel Defense Force (IDF) preventing two terrorist attacks on the Sinai border within the last two weeks.

Jordan:

Tensions with Jordan largely stem from the stalled peace process. Public opinion polls have indicated that Jordanians are also interested in reevaluating their peace treaty with Israel.

The Foreign Ministry intelligence report included the following: "The Israeli government is viewed by the Jordanians as not being committed to the two-state solution. Israel's policies are being translated into the Jordanian leadership's deep lack of trust in the Israeli leadership."

Jordan's King Abdullah tried unsuccessfully to restart talks between the Israelis and Palestinians in Amman last month. Last week, King Abdullah met with Jewish leaders from the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations. Abdullah expressed frustration at Israel's "unilateral policies" and holds it responsible for the failed talks. However, the King also reportedly praised Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu for taking risks and putting forward a plan which allowed negotiations to move forward.

Palestinians:

The Foreign Ministry's intelligence report also addressed Palestinian security concerns. "On the ground, at this point, neither the Palestinian leadership nor public opinion seems to want a violent escalation with Israel. Still, the continuing freeze of the diplomatic process, combined with any drastic Israeli moves in the military and/or economic realm and the continuing stormy situation in the Middle East, could bring about a change in this approach."

The fate of the peace process will no doubt also be impacted by the Palestinian unity government negotiations, which fell apart this past weekend.

Syria:

Today, the United Nations Human Rights Council condemned Syria, following the condemnation by the General Assembly a few days ago. The United Nations announced that "well over" 7,500 people have been killed by the violence. Yesterday, the Syrian people voted in favor of a new constitution, though the rebels view the election as a sham.

The internal power struggle in Syria has broad implications for the surrounding countries and the balance of power in the region. Jordan supports Arab League plans for Syria, but—despite urging from its internal Muslim Brotherhood—has not withdrawn its ambassador. Jordan is likely remaining quiet on the issue due to its close proximity to Syria and the 80,000 Syrian refugees who are currently within Jordan's borders.

Iran has shown support for Syria with weapons and the deployment of warships, while Egypt has withdrawn its ambassador and is investigating how Iran's warships were able to pass freely through Egyptian waters.

Hezbollah and the Lebanese government continue to support Syria, with Lebanon's defense minister meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran this past weekend. Hamas, on the other hand, made a big announcement in Cairo that it now supports the rebels. Some speculate that this will affect Hamas' relationship with Iran, further solidifying Hamas' close ties with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

Further Updates:

Hadassah will continue monitoring the unfolding situation in the Middle East and will provide further updates around Prime Minister Netanyahu's upcoming visit to Washington. President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu will be speaking at the AIPAC Policy Conference on March 4 and 5, respectively. Video and transcripts will be shared when available.

Date: 2/28/2012

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