Of conflicts, confrontation, currencies and cyber war

Of conflicts, confrontation, currencies and cyber war
Illustration for the article ''Of conflicts, confrontation, currencies and cyber war".

Government officials invariably plan for the worst, rather than the best.

And journalists also have a tendency to look for the negative rather than the positive: It's always more exciting to report on a country in trouble rather than write articles about places where things are going well.

So, any attempt to identify the major strategic events which will dominate this new year merits a healthy dose of scepticism.

Nevertheless, some global political developments are already evident and, sadly, quite a few of these look like taking a turn for the worse.

From Arab spring to Arab storm

The Middle East is one region capable of supplying endless gloom.

Five years after the popular uprisings once optimistically dubbed as the Arab Spring, the outcome is an Arab storm.

Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen are melting down and, together with Lebanon, will spend most of this year just trying to survive.

The omens are not good: too much violence has taken place, too many weapons are circulating and too many militias are fighting each other for any likelihood of a return to the old order.

At best, these countries will become loose federations controlled by a variety of warlords.

The chances are high that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist organisation - or the Islamic State as it now likes to call itself - will be crushed: ISIS is already unpopular with many of its volunteer fighters and is facing a formidable US-led military coalition.

It is also likely that Turkey will enter the fray, delivering a decisive blow against ISIS.

Yet none of this will prevent the old borders of the Middle East from melting down, almost precisely a century after they were traced in bold colour lines on a single sheet of paper by Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot, two colonial officials representing Britain and France, respectively.

On a more positive note, odds are better than even for the conclusion of a deal with Iran over its nuclear weapons.

And there is a possibility the general election in Israel, scheduled for March 17, will result in a defeat for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ushering in a new government, more amenable to a dialogue with the Palestinians.

But even if the nuclear standoff between Iran and the West ends, the broader but equally thorny issue of Iran's influence in the region and its championship of the Shi'ite Muslims against the Sunni majority will remain unanswered.

Nor is it evident that there is anyone in the Palestinian camp willing or able to strike a permanent peace deal with Israel, even if an incoming Israeli government is ready for negotiations.

Meanwhile, although the kings of Morocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, as well as the sheikhs and emirs of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman look stable and secure, some of them are affected by infirmity or old age, and most are hurt by the low prices for oil and gas, which seem set to continue for most of 2015.

In short, the Middle East would be lucky to just mark time, to prevent an inherently bad situation from getting worse.

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