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Obama's pivot to Asia? Middle East will still demand attention in 2013.

The popular unrest of the last two years has left the Middle East volatile as 2013 kicks off.

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Syria's denouement

In Syria, the civil war has claimed more than 40,000 lives, and there are threats to US interests in both the demise of Bashar al-Assad's regime there, if it comes, and in his survival. As this year draws to a close, the US has edged closer to full-fledged support for elements of the uprising against Mr. Assad even as it labeled one of the opposition's most effective fighting groups, the jihadi Jabhat al-Nusra, a foreign terrorist organization.

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The denouement there, when it comes, could well have destabilizing ripples for neighboring Lebanon and Iraq. Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles are a reality that can't be ignored, and the prospect of those weapons falling into the hands of jihadi groups has the Obama administration drawing up contingency plans for possible intervention.

Israel, while it's had a long cold war with Assad's Syria and continues to occupy the Golan Heights, nevertheless is frightened by the prospect of yet another Sunni Islamist regime, rather than a secular nationalist one, on its doorstep.

Troubles at home for Israel

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also moving into new, dangerous waters. The so-called peace process that began with the Oslo Accords in 1993 has petered out completely. In 2009, Obama called for an end to Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and early in his presidency leaned hard on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for at least a temporary freeze. But expansion has continued unabated, and the Obama administration appears to have lost interest in pressing the issue.

In the West Bank, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been weakened by his failure to negotiate an end to the encroaching Israeli settlements, and in Gaza the Islamist movement Hamas remains as entrenched as ever.

In November, Israel was a hairbreadth away from an invasion of Gaza that was only avoided at the last minute by a negotiated cease-fire. A key figure in heading off that crisis was Egypt's president, Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood stalwart whom the US turned to as intermediary with Hamas.

Brotherly relations

The rise to power of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt captures the peril for the US of this new beginning. Mr. Morsi was elected in a free election, but the country's new constitution, which is set to pass a referendum this month, is filled with alarming elements in terms of personal freedoms and minorities' rights.


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