The one thing about which we know nothing is the future. That being the case any non-conditional prediction about the future is not worth the paper its written on or the breath used in uttering it. The best an intelligence analyst can do is to identify patterns, signals and signs and endeavor to put them together in such a way that they point to a more likely than not future situation.
Even with the best information and the best analysis, however, a former US Director of Central Intelligence was quoted as saying that “The intelligence community has an unbroken record when it comes to forecasting the future. We are never right.”
None of this, of course, prevents the commentators, columnists and pundits from pontificating about the future. Luckily for them, their record of accuracy is seldom checked. Of course, like the prophets of old their forecasts may be so general as to be meaningless, along the lines of, “Things will get worse before they get better and then they will get worse again.” That is very likely to be true and is useless for planning purposes, which is the whole point of forecasting.
In the Middle East, the situation is even more chaotic than in the world in general. Since the downfall of the Ottoman Empire a century ago and especially since the onset of the Arab Nightmare – sorry, Spring – in 2011 the region has descended into a boiling stew of chaos and anarchy, involving rebellions, civil wars, terrorist groups, failed states and interventions by out-of-area countries. To quote the unauthorized version of the first verse of the Bible “In the beginning, God brought order out of chaos. He then created Man, who ever since has devoted himself wholeheartedly to bringing chaos out of order.”
All that being said, an assiduous examination of recent patterns, signals and signs would seem to indicate that the Middle East might well be on the cusp of a seismic change in its geopolitical structure. Portents are piling up, one after another – the prime minister of Israel visits the Sultan of Oman; two ministers of his government visit the United Arab Emirates (UAE). For the first time in history, the Israeli flag is flown (as opposed to burned) in a Gulf country and the Israeli national anthem is played.
Perhaps most significant of all, a former minister of the government of Kuwait in an interview on public television (so we know it was approved in advance by the Kuwaiti authorities) said that it was time for the countries of the Arabian Peninsula to recognize the State of Israel. He was not contradicted; indeed his words were reinforced at a regional meeting by the foreign minister of Oman.
We know that for some time there has been secret intelligence and security coordination and cooperation between Israel and some of these countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but what is going on now is an order of magnitude more significant. Symbols matter and meaningful symbolic events are indeed proliferating.
Israel’s strategic position in the world today is the best in its history. It is an economic, financial, scientific, technological and military powerhouse, complete with a nuclear arsenal. It has no enemies east of Pakistan and is courted by countries of the magnitude of India and China. Its relations with the current US administration could hardly be better. If added to all this the current leading indicators indeed result in recognition by most of the states of the Arabian Peninsula its position will be truly unassailable.
And for a change, order may begin to emerge from the chaos now surrounding Israel. Such a development it should be emphasized would be not only because Israel and the Gulf states share common enemies – Iran and the terrorist organizations – but because the Gulf states will have realized that Israel can be an essential catalyst in helping in the transformation of their economies from one dependent almost entirely on oil and gas to one compatible with the realities of the 21st century. That is to say not just a strategic ally, but also a strategic partner.
A seismic shift indeed should it come to pass.