The continual restlessness in the Middle East has broken out with historical new assertiveness.
Conventional wisdom of the past two decades says that the United States has exerted itself in the global scene, particularly the Middle East, in a quest to secure access to their vast oil reserves. The Persian Gulf holds immense petrol reserves and has on at least one occasion in the early 1970s used an oil embargo to pull the US – and correspondingly the global economy — to a slowdown.
With oil either directly or indirectly powering everything from our SUVs to our electronics, oil is one of the most powerful bargaining chips.
In recent years the balance of power has shifted with the discovery of deep oil wells that can be reached with fracking techniques. Immense reserves in the Dakotas and other states have tipped the scales favorably for the U.S. in the oil economy. These fields and new technologies give hope that the U.S. will become more independent from foreign oil supplies.
Yet while the U.S. has moved ahead in energy independence and greatly reduced its overseas military presence, the countries of Iraq, Syria and now Israel have seen fighting escalate into international crises. Why? What has generated this new wave of war?
Two factors stand out. For the first time since the abolition of the Islamic caliphate by Kemal Ataturk in 1923, a new supreme Muslim religious/political/military leader has stepped up, drawing allegiance from a number of Islamic groups from many nations.
The last Caliphate ended with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after WWI. But the Islamic world without a Caliph was like the Roman Catholic Church without the Pope. It only took time and circumstances to ripen before a new Caliphate would once again arise and 2014 marks the dawn.
Another factor is the plainly stated purposes and goals of Hamas who rule Gaza. Along with their ideological peers in ISIS, they envision a world in which all nations come under the rule of Islam (which would be ruled by a supreme Caliph). It’s an ideal that has not yet been accomplished, though many have tried and some made progress with large empires.
Disunity has plagued the project. Not long after the death of Muhammad, his followers split into the Shiite and Sunni factions. But past failures don’t have to dim future hopes, and Hamas has continued to fire rockets on Israel in a war of attrition, hoping that either the rockets or horrific photos of children maimed or killed by the IDF will eventually bring down the Jewish nation and restore all of Palestine to Islamic control.
Thus the new assertiveness is grounded deeply in ancient aspirations. 2014 is a pivotal year. Given the depth of conviction that drives the assertiveness, this is no time for ignorance or apathy on the part of those watching from the outside.