CSIS Report: The Inflection Point: The Middle East’s Rulers Are Facing Crisis and Playing for Keeps

By Jon B. Alterman

July 12, 2018

In 1967, the Middle East was transformed. Egypt’s president, Gamal Abd al-Nasser, was mired in a pitiless war in Yemen that was draining his military and his treasury. Regardless, he led the Arabs into a swift but disastrous war, leading to Israel’s capture of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights.

The map was not all that changed. Nasser’s Arab Socialism died, and so too did the dream of revolutionary republics leading the Arab world out from the shadow of colonialism to the center of the world stage. Nasser, who seemed to be the harbinger of the future, no longer was. Over the next several years, Arab monarchies steadied, political Islam gained steam, and the Soviet Union began to lose its Arab footholds. The environment that 1967 and its aftermath created lasted for another half-century.

Today, the rulers of the Middle East see the region at a similar tipping point, and they see the stakes as similarly high. It is the only explanation for a series of actions, especially from the Gulf Arab states, that would be utterly confounding in any other environment. The future of the Middle East will turn on whether their analysis is correct, and whether their actions are sufficient to shape the region’s trajectory.

 

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