The Daily Star (Editorial)
August 20, 2011 - 12:00am

The incident Thursday in which Palestinian gunmen entered the Sinai peninsula and killed eight people was an unexpected action that prompted an entirely predictable reaction. Israel responded with airstrikes into Gaza, killing five militants as well as a small child.

The attack and retaliation, in their timing and context, are extremely worrisome. The region is in the throes of transition, for better or for worse. Be it ongoing unrest in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria, a full-scale civil conflict in Libya, another spate of bombings in Iraq, a spike in security incidents in Lebanon, or the fresh prospect of instability in a post-Mubarak Egypt, the Middle East in August 2011 is as potentially explosive as it has been in many years.

Israel’s response included the killing of two Egyptian policemen, after it emerged that the original gunmen had entered the Sinai via Egypt. If more than one bomb attack on the principal gas pipeline between Israel and Egypt in recent months hadn’t highlighted the potential for conflict in that area of the region, then the interconnected nature of Thursday’s events have put it in unequivocal focus.

Each country facing turmoil – and there are many – is, perhaps naturally, acting currently in its own interest, be that manifested by administrations clinging desperately to power or fledging governments attempting to assert control over national security. The priorities, clearly, are often conflicting. What every leadership in the region now must agree on is not: All parties are advised to take the utmost care in avoiding a conflagration, the fallout of which would be unlikely to leave anyone unscathed.

The world has, sadly, become accustomed to skirmishes between Israeli and Palestinian belligerents. In the recent history of the Middle East, through sporadic wars and coups, the conflict between the two has been the one dependable and consistent narrative thread.

Fighting on either side was worrisome enough when the remaining countries in the region seemed to be running along steadily enough. It was as if Israel and Palestine were trading blows that belied a fractious situation within a vacuum of an otherwise relatively calm Middle East. This is no longer the case.

The Arab Spring has toppled some leaders and is likely to see the back of others. The region is in flux, and flux presents fresh and especially challenging situations. This includes a heightened potential for unrest, even outright conflict.

The catalyst for widespread chaos could be as seemingly localized as Thursday’s events initially appeared. But, as the ensuing multination scuffle proved, the repercussions of security incidents in the region no longer stop at the borders of those directly involved.

There is rarely a topic deserving of unanimous agreement among all Middle Eastern states. The common requirement to avert any widespread clash – the flames of which would spread throughout the region – is one of the infrequent cases that requires unanimous assent.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017