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Al-Hayat - May 9, 2010

by Ghassan Charbel

War is excluded, according to officials and diplomats. It has a high cost, and no one will risk shooting the first missile. The current muscle-flexing, threats, and accusations aim at preventing or treating concerns. The abyss is not imminent then, but nothing prevents us from moving towards it.

It suffices to watch the news to be certain that the temperature is rising in the region’s tension points. There is talk about networks, arsenals, and preparations. Dark clouds fill the sky. They are clouds from old volcanoes that do not threaten plane engines but rather the engines of coexistence in the region and some of its countries.

We must wait to know the scope of the “Iranian network” in Kuwait. It is obvious that the Kuwaiti authorities are acting responsibly and cautiously, as they are aware of how sensitive the issue is amidst the current tensions. The existence of a spy network belonging to a neighboring state is not surprising. Kuwait knows that it does not have Switzerland or Finland as a neighbor, that this could be a common practice in the region, and that some countries are not known for their respect of international borders. Moreover, the region has come out from wars and seems to be getting ready for another one.

We must wait for the end of investigations. However, what is more dangerous than the existence of the network is the reactions on the news of its discovery. Such preliminary and simple information has led to awakening national and sectarian feelings and sensitivities, and to the exchange of accusations between Sunnis and Shiites. Talk about the network seemed to be an opportunity to reveal the latent tension in society. If the mere announcement of the existence of the network led to such mobilization, what then would be the case if war were launched against Iran and it responded by targeting the US forces in Kuwait? What is more dangerous than the network’s discovery is the discovery that national unity can be fractured or fissured, and this does not only concern Kuwait alone.

We can add to this talk about the Kuwaiti network the Iranian-Emirati conflict on the islands and the recent round of declarations and reactions, not to mention some Iranian stances and articles on Bahrain. In fact, the relations among most Arab Gulf countries and Iran are not at their best, and Iran – with its constant threats and maneuvers in the Gulf waters – has heightened fears instead of seeking to alleviate them.

Dark clouds also fill the sky of Iraq. Doubting the election results has opened the door to an awakening of sectarian settlement of accounts. The same applies to the announcement of the alliance between the State of Law Coalition and Iraqi National Alliance. There is talk again about sectarian alignment, as well as a renewed fear from the return of sectarian violence. There are also those who consider that Iraq has turned into a hostage in an Iranian-American duel, and in a sectarian duel on the regional level.

Lebanon is not very far from those winds. Hezbollah boycotted municipal elections in Beirut. This was justified by “the manifestation of sectarian incitement and the mobilization of public opinion”, in regard to a potential competition between a list that includes Hezbollah and the Future movement list. Of course, it must also be noted that the Sunni-Shiite tension in Lebanon receded in the past few months.

If we add to the clouds that are forming over the Gulf, Iraq, and Lebanon other issues, such as Hezbollah’s arsenal, talk about missiles, and the escalation of US pressure on Syria, then the picture is complete. There is promise of higher levels of tension in the region, more specifically in some parts, and seatbelts must be fastened in order to curb fears on the borders and on the internal level. The winds of destabilization threaten to blow again, and keeping them away requires careful calculations, rational policies, and real Arab reflections followed by daring decisions and calculated initiatives.

It is most probable that this picture will be present at the Syrian-Turkish summit in Istanbul during the coming two days. The two countries can play a role in curbing regional tensions thanks to the relations they have and the cards they hold.

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