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Waking from the Middle East Nightmare

MADRID – The Middle East is caught in a seemingly endless spiral of instability. The possibility of military intervention in Syria, together with the deteriorating situation in Egypt since the army’s coup, has placed the region on a razor’s edge. Moreover, despite the changes in Iran since its presidential election in June, international negotiations over its nuclear ambitions remain a dead letter.

Paradoxes abound, as the United States’s traditional Middle East allies (Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, Egypt, and the Gulf states) have taken opposing – and sometimes seemingly contradictory – positions on the region’s key conflicts. And, in all of today’s hotspots, the assertion of interests by neighboring or nearby countries has complicated matters further.

Saudi Arabia, fearing severe domestic consequences from the Muslim Brotherhood’s empowerment in Egypt, does not want to see an Islamist movement legitimized democratically. So it has taken a consistently harsh position against the Brotherhood, despite the latter being more moderate than the Saudis’ own brand of Islam.

Israel, for its part, is exerting pressure in two ways. First, it is supporting the Egyptian coup and international recognition of the military regime, thereby ensuring – it hopes – greater stability along the Sinai border. Second, it is making progress in its negotiations with the Palestinians dependent on events in Egypt and elsewhere in the region, such as Iran. US Secretary of State John Kerry has invested considerable political capital in the revival of peace negotiations, and Israel can use that to its advantage as well.