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For Arabs hurricanes lay in the offing

Ghassan Charbel

Published: Updated:
I followed news of hurricane Sandy closely. It was a strange, intriguing and yet a frightening event. I saw homes that were uprooted, streets that were flooded, cars that were trapped and boats that were carried inland by the storm.

The television networks covered all aspects of hurricane Sandy, including its human and financial costs, and its implications for the imminent presidential election. Nature’s wrath or madness is terrible, even criminal and merciless. It uproots everything in its path, and reminds humans how powerless they are before its might, despite all their discoveries and inventions.

But regardless of everything that has happened in New York and other areas, I felt envious. The Americans have a state, a president and oversight and accountability by their Congress. They have fire departments, civil defense and a president who declares “major disasters” despite the fact that the number of those killed was less than the daily toll of the homicidal and suicidal policies unleashed on our capitals.

But I felt guilty for paying too much attention to the hurricane in distant lands, and returned to the television screens that focused on Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad and Sana'a, that is to say, our stricken cities and their sisters.

Following the news led me to reach the conclusion that what the Middle East is witnessing is not much different from the precursors of a hurricane that can uproot regimes and countries, with a cost paid in rivers of blood and torn political borders, hitherto believed to have finally settled and stabilized in their present form.

The storms gathering in the horizon to form a hurricane follow the forecasts below:

- While an Israeli-Iranian war is yet to erupt, we can already see some of its early signs: Assassination of scientists, targeting of tourists, bombing of Iranian weapons and ammunition stores in Sudan and an Iranian drone launched from Lebanon. The drone’s trip means that Iran has a forward base along Israel’s borders through Hezbollah. It also means that the south Lebanon front will inevitably flare up the moment the war erupts, or shortly before.

It is difficult to imagine that the United States would remain uninvolved in such a conflict, because Iran is anticipated to respond by targeting U.S. interests in the region. But the health and wellbeing of Lebanese patients no longer allows for major risks in any direction.

- One can only imagine how much more the ongoing conflict in Syria will intensify, seeing that it is all too likely to do so, given its nature and its location. It will be difficult for the Iranian regime to accept a simultaneous defeat in the nuclear issue and the Syrian conflict. Most probably, Iran will play all its cards to protect its influence in the region and its nuclear dream. This war will be more dangerous than the Iraq war for many reasons, including the fact that it will take place across multiple theaters.

- Never before have we seen such deterioration in Sunni-Shiite relations. It is enough to take a look at the situation in Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and other countries as proof. We are seeing the emergence of bloody fault lines which are even more dangerous because they cross national borders.

- Despite the “Arab spring-like” character of the uprising in Syria when it first started, we cannot today consider the bloody conflict there in isolation from the sectarian crisis, nor from the fate of the nuclear program in Iran and Sunni-Shiite strife.

- We must pay heed to the collapse of the integrity of international borders. Whenever a state of turmoil ravages a country, marauding fighters flow in and impose on its developments their style, ideology and slogans, and steer them towards scenes that have nothing to do with peaceful protests.

Here, we can also add the feelings of despair which usually mount up in countries that succeeded in toppling tyrant rulers, before discovering that the new dominant forces are calling for moving backwards in time rather than towards the future. This anger also coincides with a growing frustration with empty international rhetoric about the two-state solution.

Everything suggests that there is a hurricane approaching. The Arabs are the weakest side in the region, and for this reason, the hurricane will make landfall in their territories.

The Iranian-Turkish settling of scores on the Syrian battlefield is all too clear. Iraq has failed to redress its national unity. Lebanon is offering its chest to the storm with alacrity. And Jordan is watching its borders with much anxiety.

Poor hurricane Sandy; it made a visit and now it will go away. It is a picnic compared to the hurricanes our countries are preparing to face, in the absence of all kinds of safety valves. It would be no exaggeration to say that ineluctable hurricanes lay in the offing for the Arabs; or that the Arabs are already in the eye of the storm.

(Ghassan Charbel is a columnist for al-Hayat. The article was published on Nov. 1, 2012)

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.