Since the Second World War, there have been over two dozen major armed conflicts and prolonged insurgencies in the oil-rich region, with Israel alone involved in about a dozen of them.
The Middle East is easily the most conflict-prone region in the world, and there’s no sign the violence is going to end any time soon, says Seth J. Frantzman, a Middle East affairs analyst at the Jerusalem Post.
In an article for the newspaper on Monday, the observer asked why the region has so many more wars than any other on Earth. The answer, he believes, is the region’s complexity, its home to great power competition, and the sense of “impunity” that some regional powers have “to traffic weapons and send their armies across borders.”
“Nowhere else in the world are there so many states operating across national borders or funding and arming proxies,” Frantzman says, pointing to a wide range of ongoing conflicts, from Iraqi militia attacks on US forces in Iraq, to Israeli airstrikes in Syria against ‘Iranian’ proxies, to “Turkish-backed Libyans versus Egyptian-backed Libyans” in that North African nation, to Russian and Iranian operations against US and Turkish-backed militants in Syria, to Saudi Arabia and its allies’ campaign in Yemen, to “everyone vs ISIS*”, Israel vs. Hamas, and Turkey vs. the PKK.
At the same time, the observer suggests, advanced military technology such as drone swarms, long range missiles, and the means to defend against them, have added a new layer of complexity to these conflicts.
“In addition, the region’s civil wars in Yemen, Libya and Syria are continuing. There are also rivalries, such as Qatar versus Saudi Arabia, that feed conflicts elsewhere. Nowhere else in the world are F-35s, MiG-29s, S-400s and other systems all being put into play with the chance that they will be used. The region is suffering the long-term challenges of the post-Cold War and the post-War on Terror era,” Frantzman argues.
“This era sees a return to stronger states after the Arab Spring, as well as the chaos and rise of proxy groups and ungoverned spaces. The region is now seen as being up for grabs as the US begins to withdraw from areas like Syria or Afghanistan – and other states, such as Iran, Turkey, Russia and China are stepping in. This feeds conflicts as each country seeks greater hegemony and wants to take over areas in Syria, Libya or Yemen.”
Arab-Israeli Conflict as Root of the Problem?
Although he mentions Israel’s involvement in these conflicts via its ongoing battle against ‘Iranian proxies’ and Palestinian militias, Frantzman doesn’t comment on the broader interests or motivations which may be driving Tel Aviv’s military operations. In the past year alone, in addition to its attacks on Syria, Israel has carried out air and drone strikes against Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and even militias in far-off Iraq, all, ostensibly, to counter ‘Iranian influence’.
But tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbours go back all the way to independence and the Palestine and Arab-Israeli wars of 1947-1949, along with the Six-Day War in June 1967, the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the 1982 Lebanon War, two Palestinian intifadas, the 2006 Lebanon War, and several campaigns in Gaza between 2008 and 2014. These wars have seen Tel Aviv facing off against a broad array of adversaries ranging from Islamic fundamentalists to secular nationalists, which points to a deep-seated, seemingly intransigent animosity between Israel and most of its neighbours.
The territorial changes that followed the Six-Day War in particular seem to be the root of many of the conflicts facing the region today, with Israel’s annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights, and plans to ‘apply sovereignty’ to large chunks of the West Bank, sparking outrage in Jordan, the Gulf States, and many countries outside the Middle East, who fear that these actions could spark a new sense of historic injustice and put an end to any prospects for peace for decades if not centuries to come.
Nor, incidentally, does Frantzman mention the disastrous consequences of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011, and the CIA’s ‘Timber Sycamore’ operation to funnel weapons, cash and training to militants in Syria between 2012-2017, and the role that these actions had in destabilizing these mostly secular nations and sparking many of the sectarian conflicts being played out today.