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The Arab Spring’s Unintended Consequences

DENVER – Yemen’s renewed violence is just the latest sign that the Arab Spring may be joining the list of those historical contagions that, in the fullness of time, did not turn out well. Indeed, its effect may be reaching countries in ways that we did not expect.

Israel, in particular, can be forgiven for curbing its enthusiasm over the effect of the Arab Spring on its own security. On August 19, Israel absorbed an attack in the Negev Desert, through an increasingly dangerous border with Egypt, which left eight civilians dead. Just a few weeks later, a mob attacked Israel’s embassy in Cairo, forcing the evacuation of Israeli diplomats and creating a major row with Egypt’s fragile interim government. In Syria, nobody is prepared to predict the outcome of what is turning into a bloody battle with sectarian overtones. And in Libya, while getting rid of Muammar el-Qaddafi is a good first step, democracy and the rule of law are, to be optimistic, years away.

Meanwhile in Shia-led Iraq, the black sheep of the Arab world, attention has focused on the question of a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States to replace the one that expires on December 31. Negotiations are proceeding on a post-2011 agreement to ensure some kind of US military presence that contributes to Iraq’s continued (relative) political and social stability and economic growth. After all, Iraq now truly has something to protect: 11 oil contracts, with more to come, hold out the possibility that within a decade, oil production could be on par with that of Saudi Arabia.

This year has seen an increase in violence – Sunni attacks on the government and on Shia civilians, and, more rarely, but also deadly, Shia extremist attacks on US soldiers. Indeed, while the latter is rare compared to the former, such attacks have made this year one of the costliest years for US troops since the “surge” of 2007-2008.