`Arab Spring will lead to long, cold Arab Winter`

Israeli security experts say that Egypt and Tunisia will be Islamist states, while Iraq and Yemen, could fragment.

New Delhi: The Arab Spring will lead to a long and cold Arab Winter as the countries that have seen forcible regime changes either fragment along tribal lines or transform into Islamist entities, two Israeli security experts said Thursday.

In all this, peace will prevail in the Gulf states, barring Bahrain, as they are homogenous entities with just one tribe ruling in each of them, the experts said.

"We are headed for a cold and long Arab winter. If you look at East Europe, countries like Poland and Romania are yet to make the transition (from the Cold War era) even after 20 years. Whoever says it will happen here (in the Middle East and North Africa) in one year is hallucinating," Eytan Gilboa, director of the Bar-Ilan University`s School of Communication, said.

He was speaking at a seminar on "The Arab Spring: An Israeli Perspective" at the defence ministry-funded think tank Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses.

According to Mordechai Kedar, Research Associate at the Bar-Ilan University`s Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies, "two trends" had emerged from the Arab Spring.

Egypt and Tunisia were heading to be Islamist states, while Iraq and Yemen, and possibly Libya and Syria too could fragment along tribal lines.

"In Libya, 140 tribes united to oust (Muammar) Gaddafi and today they are fighting each other. One wants to control the oil, one wants to control the economy, one wants to control the government," he pointed out.

"The genie of tribalism has been released from the bottle. This is now the name of the game," Kedar said.

The "exceptions" in this festering scenario were Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, but not Bahrain.

"These are homogenous states where oil is not the prime driver. Each of these states is ruled by one tribe. Since it is one family ruling, so the leadership is legitimate," Kedar contended.

He, in fact, wondered at the use of the expression "Arab Spring", deprecating attempts to liken it to the European Revolutions of 1848, known in some countries as the Spring of Nations and Springtime of the Peoples.

"Spring is very problematic in the Middle East. One day there is the sun, the next day there is rain, then it is hot and dry. Then, it is very hard to predict where a spring, if released, will go. These countries have jumped to nobody knows where," Kedar maintained.

So, what would be the implications of all this on Israel?

For one, "there is the real threat of the Eastern Mediterranean becoming an Islamic lake", said Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies.

"It is ringed by Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. The Sinai is becoming another Somalia because of Al Qaeda. Gaza is Islamist under Hamas. Libya is under the Hezbollah. Syria is an open question. Turkey has turned Islamist and is less and less a good NATO member.

"Then, there is Cyprus, where the north is occupied by Turkey. Gas has been discovered in the Mediterranean south of Cyprus and this could tempt Turkey to take the south too," Inbar pointed out.

"This is not good for Israel as 90 percent of our exports pass through the Mediterranean," he added.

Then, there was the question of Iran and its covert plans to create a nuclear arsenal.

"There is a debate in Israel about covert operations or a military strike (against Iran`s bomb-making facilities). Israel believes that sanctions will not work. Thus, we must invest very much more on security and build a larger force. But, force building takes time.

"No one believes that peace is around the corner. Our economy is in good shape and we will tighten our belts till this mini-storm passes," Inbar said.

Bureau Report

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