Confused about where the Middle East is heading? I don’t blame you!

I don’t blame regular hardworking citizens in the US and Europe for being confused and frustrated about what is going on in the Middle East. In preparation for a small talk about the Middle East this week in Switzerland, I sat down and searched the news for a pattern, or some kind of red thread that could provide me with that Zen-like power to explain what is really going on in the Middle East and why Europeans should care. Not surprisingly, my quest was unsuccessful. Here are some of the day’s results:


100 Rockets fell on Israel from Gaza overnight and at least140 since Saturday.

Israeli PM Netanyahu prepares for the possibility of a ground offensive to stop the barrage and reaches out for international support.

Egypt warns that an Israeli offensive into Gaza may cause them to withdraw their ambassador from Israel.

Israel shoots warning rockets into Southern Syria after a mortar shell lands in the Golan Heights.

The Rebels in Syria warn Israel from interfering in Syria’s civil war saying that the Israeli rockets were clearly aimed at aiding Asad’s regime against the opposition forces.

The Syrian opposition finally comes together in a unified organization after talks in Doha over the weekend. The new leadership now represents about 80% of the various opposition factions within Syria. This move is welcomed by Western states and the Arab league, paving the way for possible international recognition and support.

The UN announces that there is evidence that Syrian opposition forces could be guilty of war crimes.

Turkey, which has suffered from rockets being fired across the Syrian border, announces that it is in discussions with NATO to deploy Patriot missiles on its soil. This announcement comes one day after the US elections, indicating that president Obama may be ready for a tougher NATO stance on Syria.

The Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah has bragged that it could kill tens of thousands of Israelis by striking specific targets in Israel with what it described as precision-guided rockets and that it would do so should Israel decide to attack Iran. Moshe Arens, former defense minister argues that should Israel decide to attack Iran, it would have to attack Hezbollah first.

In Egypt, meanwhile, over 10,000 people gathered in Tahrir square on Friday calling for the government to include Sharia law in the new Egyptian constitution that is currently being written.

Egyptian president Morsi has declared support for the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement and recently, in a letter accompanying his newly appointed ambassador to Tel Aviv, called Israel’s president Peres a “great and good friend.” He then went on to express a desire for “maintaining and strengthening the cordial relations which so happily exist between our two countries.”

Morsi’s party, the Muslim Brotherhood, tried to assert that the letter had been fabricated but the government asserts that it was genuine.

Meanwhile, Sudan’s leader emerges from a Saudi Arabia hospital after undergoing surgery announcing that he intends to retaliate on Israel for the alleged bombing of a Khartoum weapons facility.

In Iraq, a Muslim cleric, known to have been one of the masterminds behind 9/11 is released from Prison and allowed to leave for Jordan

Over the weekend, Iran fired at a US drone in the Persian Gulf, which it claims has crossed into Iranian airspace. They warn that they will fire again if Washington continues to intrude its airspace.

In Lebanon, clashes between Shia and Sunni groups turn deadly, killing four people

Tens of thousands take the street in Kuwait protesting a change of the election rules that would limit the number of candidates on the official ballot.

Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has announced early elections. With a disorganized and disunited opposition Netanyahu’s Likud party is likely to stay in power, however, Netanyahu’s approval ratings have recently gone down in the polls.

Moderate Israelis announce that the re-election of Obama is an opportune moment for restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

On November 6, Israel announced the bid for constructing about 1300 new housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, marking 2012 as the record year for the construction of new settlements in areas that Palestinians believe should become their independent state. Norway deplores this decision.

Palestinians announce a decision to exhume Arafat’s body in order to allow French, Swiss and Russian experts investigate allegations of poisoning.

Abbas clarifies his intention to resume negotiations with Israel after UN recognition of Palestinian statehood.


To say that we understand what is going on in the Middle East is one thing. But to claim that we alone have the power to discern right from wrong, good from evil, or perhaps more accurately, evil from evil, is quite another. Anyone who does so without pragmatism is, in my opinion, 100% wrong. But then again, can you really blame people who grow up in an environment where you are either right or dead?

However, looking at this list of findings, it needs to be pointed out that most of the news items describe stories that involve human lives and reflect the yearning of individuals to live free from oppression and tyranny.  They are about the human desire to live in peace without rockets or sectarian violence, without dictators or foreign occupiers, and without the fear of religious persecution. What is missing in the Middle East is the realization that these desires cannot be mutually exclusive, or else the violence will surely continue.

About the Author
Tova Norlen is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Security Studies in Zurich, Switzerland, working on issues relating to international security, Middle East/Israel, conflict management and US foreign policy. She has a PhD in international relations and conflict management from the Johns Hopkins University School of International Studies in Washington DC, and has worked for several years teaching International relations and related subjects in Southern California.