Reva Bhalla of Stratfor and Libyan-American activist Del Elmagbari discuss the growing crisis in the Middle East
>>> starts right now.
>>> good afternoon, a keg lit, in the fight for libya. this asp f-15s taking out gadhafi-controlled missile sites around the capital of tripoli, as nato warships continue to enforce an arms embargo against the regime. meanwhile, residence of benghazi in the ease rallies in the streets in support of “operation odyssey dawn” reports now indicating that the international campaign is instead weakening gadhafi’s forces. still, this new amateur video purportedly shows gadhafi forces launching rocket attacks on rebels, an indication the fight at this point far from over. mean time, the dramatic scenes of protests continue to stream in from around the region. unrest today in yemen, just to the south. bahrain to the east of saudi arabia, and syria, yes, adjacent to israel, and even in israel, the relative quiet in jerusalem shattered by a deadly bombing, the blast near a crowded bus — excuse me — killing one woman and wounding more than 20 others, this the first major attack in jerusalem in several years. joining us this afternoon a couple folks i’m excited to have here, two very interested parties, rava balla, with an organ called straffor, a consulting group to large investors, governments and organization. with us as well. dell al makbari, he’s been very vocal about the ultimate intent and desire of the libyan rebels and activists there. del, what is your perspective on the state of play in your home country?
>> at this point we’re very excited that the international community, are protecting the civilians right now. this is very important. it was needed. people don’t — i mean, the — people criticizing these air strikes need to remember that benghazi was on the verge of a genocide, so these air strikes are extremely important. i think these definitely going to be a — it’s going to change the game at this point for us.
>> bell, gadhafi is putting a lot of pressure, just since yesterday, misrata was being bombarded, and gadhafi forces were killing the people in misrata. just recently, for ten hours of air strikes in misrata, helping out the opposition fighters, so there’s still a lot of pressure from gadhafi, and we need the support, we still need the support from the united states and the international community, the coalition.
>> rava, do we have a good answer to the question, who is we are protecting or defending from gadhafi?
>> i think that’s unclear to the coalition partners. we still seeing that glaring contradiction between the strategy and the mission here. if the mission is to oust gadhafi, which is something that cameron, obama and sarkozy all agree on, how exactly do you operationalize that? it really is unclear whether any coalition can affect regime change from 15,000 feet in the air. they’re going to need significant ground support to these rebels, and it’s not clear that any of the coalition partners are able or willing to provide that support.
>> understood. i want to turn our attention to a couple key balances of power in that region, reva, first the arab/israeli balance. how do you determine what happened with the bombing in jerusalem? and what is the state of that, considering the key ally that egypt has been in maintaining that stability?
>> the arab/israeli balance of power is significant, and the attack came on the heels of a barrage of attacks, we saw particularly gruesome attack in the west bank two week ago, so there happens to be an intent to provoke israel into a military confrontation. that applying enormous pressure on egypt right now. egypt already in a fragile political position, trying to manage the political transition at home while also dealing with this warrick next door in libya. the last thing it needs is a situation in the gaza strip that could aply a lot of appreciate by not only hamas, but the main opposition group, the muslim brotherhood.
>> del, how concerned are you about overall imbalances in the saudi/iranian balance of power?
>> right now our concern is libya, and as far as who’s going to take over, you know, after gadhafi. right now the uprising is being led by educated people, they’re being led by doctors, lawyers, engineers, so we need to concern ourselves as a libyan-american, how we make libya, you know — how we can how it become another country that’s part of the western morals and civilization. this is what we want. as far as that, when that happens, then we can talk about other countries, but for now we need to focus on what’s happening in libya. i can’t speak about what’s happening in saudi arabia, what’s happening in gaza and israel. right now a genocide was occurring and we need to do can do to help out the opposition.
>> del, i really thank you for become such a potent voice in bringing both the murder and the threat of the genocide in libya to our attention, and to so many other folks. i’m going to let you go for the afternoon. thank you so much. reva, if i can, i want to keep you for a minute to talk about the reasonen in aggregate. specifically i want to talk about the balance of power between the two factions that exist inside of the muslim religion. forget the countries, the so-called sunnis and the shia. i’m trying to think of the best way to explain to an american audience. what occurred was that of red state/ blue state. forgive me for the crude analogy. i have the shia region head quartered out of iran and the sunni base headquartered out of saudi arabia, and we have this map, if we can leave it up, can you see this, reva?
>> yes, i can see it.
>> the grin big shia, the yellow being sunni, and the fire represents threats of disruption disruption.
>> well, it’s not that black and white, but here we see a balance of power in flux, between the predominant sunni and shia forces. this is a critical moment for that balance of power, especially as the united states faces an overbhauming strategic need to militarily strict itself from iraq. that deadline is approaching fast. the iranians have been lying in wait to fill the power vacuum in baghdad. in addition to that, they are looking at an opportunity here. they were using the north african unrest as a cover for a covert destabilization campaign in the eastern arabian regions, so countries like bahrain remain a key flash point in trying to produce this cascade effect of shia unrest that could potentially spread in significant ways to where a lot of the oil is concentrated, where you have significant communities, and that’s exactly why the gcc states are so concerned with what happens in bahrain and why they have made an overt and bold move to deploy forces to that island in an effort to counterbalance iran.
>> ultimately if saudi arabia– from looking at the map, it looks almost like a noose. they have the shia force from iran that is intact, the potential amplification in iraq and to the west and to the north and with bahrain to saudi arabia’s east and yemen just south of saudi arabia. am i wrong in looking at that as if again the pot for a major move forward with the accumulation of shia power and greater threat that’s possible looking at this map?
>> right. the saudis have a lot to be concerned about, over the past several days we’ve seen a lot of moves out of the saudi kingdom, trying to introduce new reforms call for municipal elections, things like that to try to contain the unrest, but as you mentioned there’s a two-front war approaches. you have a situation already in bahrain and the eastern arabian region, then southern saudi arabia under threat from the instable that’s taking place right now in yemen. yemen has always been seen as sort of a subordinate power to the saudis, very different to manage. you have a slew of crises in that country from al qaeda to separatists to southern separatists. that is something that the saudis have had to put on the back burner while dealing with these issues, but as that situation escalates, they now have to turn their attention to what does a post-region look like.
>> very quickly what happened to the u.s./ saudi arabian relationship in the context of the decision not to back mubarak and in a decision to back the rebels in libya, to what that implies for you. the u.s. relationship with the rebels that may emerge in saudi arabia?
>> well, i think the u.s./saudi relationship right now is centered on what’s happening in the persian gulf s. not so much about the north africa unrest, so in that situation here, we’re looking at an iran that has a lot of levers at its disposal, a lot of covert efforts. again the u.s. strategic need to remove its forces from iraq. so you would suspect that there will be some quiet negotiations, or at least attempts at negotiations taking place right now. that is 9 saudi fear, that the u.s. will reach an accommodations with the iranians that would leave the saudis and the sunni arabs vulnerable. i think that may be what is producing some tension between the americans and the saudis right now, but overall this is a tense time. everyone is trying to manage things and contain iran, but iran definitely has a lot of assets at its disposals.
>> reva, thank you so much for your time and your haz. reva disbhalla, check it out at stratfor.com.