Middle East in 2012? Egypt and Iran and Syria and... oh, my.
Last year was momentous, but the region may just be getting warmed up.
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3. Israel. The Israelis have a lot on their plate. An Iranian nuclear program that many of their political elite publicly view as an existential threat, political change in Egypt that has called into question the durability of the 30-year cold peace underlined by the Camp David accords, and an increasingly militant religious right at home that is calling into question the very notion of what it means to be Israeli. While the likelihood of continued saber rattling both from and directed at Iran (high) is a pretty safe bet, Israel's relationship with neighbors is far harder to predict. Senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the rising star of post-Mubarak Egypt, have expressed opposition to the treaty with Israel while referring to Israel as a "criminal entity" and the like. But the organization, seeking to consolidate its influence inside Egypt and wary of any moves that might give the powerful Egyptian military a pretext for a crackdown, is likely to move cautiously in the matter. Perhaps most interesting to my mind is the internal debate in Israel over how to handle religious extremists, who have used so-called "price tag" operations (burning mosques, for instance) to oppose giving up control over parts of the West Bank, and have engaged in minor stone throwing attacks on Israeli military posts that have carried great symbolic weight. An incident of ultra-orthodox activists spitting on an 8-year-old Jewish girl walking to school (for the crime of not wearing sufficiently modest dress) in December reignited the national debate. In 2011, the country's parliament passed laws restricting free speech, by seeking to criminalize calls for boycotts of products produced in West Bank settlements, and sought to restrict the independence of the judiciary.Skip to next paragraph
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4. Iran. Last year the Iranian nuclear program suffered setbacks, from the Stuxnet computer virus that damaged the country's ability to enrich uranium, to the Obama Administrations successful effort to impose far tougher financial sanctions on the country. Global oil markets grew increasingly nervous about the possibility of war, particularly towards the end of the year as Iran began to threaten to close to the Strait of Hormuz, a vital conduit for Gulf oil to the rest of the world. While Iran couldn't turn off the spout, and if it tried war would probably become inevitable, a major crisis would almost lead to a sharp spike in oil prices. New sanctions on Iran's central bank could lead to economic chaos in the country. Iran's currency, the riyal, lost 10 percent of its value to the dollar after President Obama signed into law a bill sanctioning the country's central bank and international entities that trade with it. That raises the prospects of not just financial turmoil in Iran, but sharp increases in poverty and questions about the government's ability to deliver on subsidies that millions of Iranians rely on. If that happens, will Iran's leaders meekly concede on their nuclear program, or begin seeking means to strike out against their external enemies? Increasing the tension is US electoral politics; a number of the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have openly said they'd consider military action against Iran as commander in chief.