At the end of the Gulf War in 1991, then US president George H W Bush announced that a "New World Order" had emerged and henceforth the problems of the world would be resolved peacefully. In the Middle East, he added, the time was at hand to reach a settlement in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the US began to push toward the realization of that end. Under US auspices, the Israelis and Palestinians signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, Jordan and Israel concluded a peace treaty in 1994 and Syria and Israel entered into negotiations that regrettably broke off following the assassination of former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
In spite of such auspicious beginnings, however, changes in the international and regional climate determined the course of subsequent developments. Most significantly, the US now stood alone at the peak of the world order and its prime concern was to retain that position. In the Middle East, the by-product of this was that Israel acquired greater freedom to act as it saw fit. It was at this juncture that the rules of the game changed and both Israeli and American practices took a new turn.
In addition to ending the Palestinian problem, Israel wanted to eliminate what it perceived to be threats to its security from Iraq and Iran. Simultaneously, the US wished to eliminate what it regarded as obstacles to its policy in the Middle East; namely the political attitudes of Iraq and Iran. This convergence in outlook was behind Israel's rush to accelerate its negotiations with the Palestinians, and Washington's hurry to reshape the region in accordance with the US-Israeli vision, and it underscores the connections between the various problems in the Middle East.
Contrary to widespread belief, the events of September 11 did not alter US foreign policy objectives, though they did change the means employed to achieve them. From recourse to political and diplomatic channels, Washington rapidly adopted a preference for direct military intervention to advance its political objectives. This shift was the product of a fundamental change in US political and strategic thinking. Washington's focus on Iraq, in particular, serves at least two ends: The first is to tip the strategic balance in the Middle East further in favor of Israel and to facilitate an end to the Palestinian issue in accordance with US-Israeli conditions.
The second is to secure its interests in the region and complete the encirclement of what it perceives as another threat to Israel, Iran, which can then be dealt with at a later stage, perhaps by different means. Washington, however, overlooked the fact that military might, no matter how fierce, cannot produce peace, stability and security - not in the Middle East nor anywhere else.

The Aftermath of the Iraq War
The end of the war in Iraq has led to geopolitical and geostrategic changes in the Middle East, particularly in the Gulf. Geopolitically, from the American perspective, the relative political weight of the nations of the region has shifted, a shift that could threaten regional stability. Geostrategically, American military forces are still heavily based in the Gulf, but the US has moved most of its central command structure to Qatar, while the largest part of its military capacity is now concentrated in Iraq. This change matches Washington's political objective of reorganizing the region in accordance with its own interests and contrary to the security of the states in the region.
These shifts have triggered a number of other developments in the region, taking into account the disappearance of the "Eastern Front." Israel's role has been enhanced and a new Middle East "peace process" - with different rules - has been launched. In addition, the Gulf Cooperation Council is set to be remodeled: It has been proposed that the GCC's membership be expanded to include other states, including Iraq, once some sort of internal stability has been achieved there. This will be extremely significant, representing the de facto creation of a new Middle Eastern organization to replace the Arab League. It will, in essence, be the concrete realization of Washington's plan for fundamental changes in the Middle East, and a sign that US forces will remain in Iraq - and the region - for the foreseeable future.
So far the US seems determined to continue the process of change that has been set in motion in Iraq and the Middle East. Nevertheless, the successful execution of this plan is contingent on several factors. There will be political obstacles, both from the American public and from friends and allies abroad. Regular American loss of life will recall the experience of the Vietnam War and will inevitably have an impact on the US public. Moreover, the financial cost of control through conflict and occupation is draining and has already debilitated the domestic US economy.
The US will have to rely on the political and strategic consequences of the war to shape the future of the Middle East, and while it might seem the regional balance of power has already been altered, these changes remain fluid. It is still possible today for other parties to influence the course of events. This is particularly true with respect to stability in the Gulf, the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the new threat represented by the role of some of the neighboring non-Arab states. US policy in the Middle East is completely inconsistent with the urgent needs of the people of the region and the world at large. It may be out of proportion with existing threats in the Middle East as well as a dangerous adventure that risks perpetuating current conflicts in the region and beyond for years to come.

Iran and Syria
Two countries deserve special attention during the coming stage: Iran and Syria. Iran now finds itself in an extremely difficult situation. It senses it is the next American target, and that regime change there represents the next step toward enhancing Israeli security and furthering regional US objectives. Certain Iranian officials have stated that Iran has not only been put on the defensive, but in effect has its back to the wall. As a result, it is attempting to mobilize resistance to US policies and to establish a new framework for security that will help it when the moment of confrontation arrives. The question is: Why is the US threatening Iran?
Again, the reasons are closely associated with Israel and the regional balance of power. Were Iran to produce nuclear weapons (for which it has the technology, even though the political decision to do so remains suspended), Israel would no longer have a regional nuclear monopoly. The Iranian deterrent, in this case, would neutralize Israel's ability to use its nuclear threat to advance its regional policy. The US is not about to let this happen.
Syria is still in the spotlight, as the US openly pressures it to align with American and Israeli objectives. The US administration - supported by Congress - has prepared the charge sheet in advance: Syria, it argues, possesses weapons of mass destruction, gives refuge to terrorist organizations and maintains a military presence in Lebanon. The pressure on Syria, furthermore, has increased as a result of its new geostrategic position. Syria is now surrounded by Israel, Turkey, the "new" Iraq and Jordan, where policy-making is determined in tandem with the US. The US position towards Iran and Syria also adversely affects the Palestinian position in negotiations with Israel for a resolution of the Palestinian predicament and the Middle East problem in general.

Weapons of Mass Destruction
Israel is the sole proven nuclear power in the Middle East. Moreover, the US did not exert any effort to control nuclear weapons and their proliferation in the region as a whole. As far as the Bush administration is concerned, Iraq is only the first in a long list of countries that must be stripped of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Washington's sudden interest in pursuing countries suspected of secretly developing WMD, of course, does not extend to Israel, despite the fact that Israel's arsenal of nuclear and other WMD has been an open secret for years.
Somewhere along the way the issue of terrorism came to be identified with the issue of WMD. This is a particularly critical problem when it comes to the Middle East, where Israel, with the full knowledge and support, not to say connivance of the US, has been allowed to build up a "secret" arsenal of WMDs. This is not only a factor of instability in a region already ripe with social, political and economic problems, but an obvious incentive for other countries to follow suit, and to set in motion an arms race that will be difficult, if not impossible, to control or contain. It may be argued that Washington's drive to ensure the banning of WMD should receive the unqualified support of all right-thinking people. Nevertheless, the credibility of Washington's position is compromised by what many see as the double standard it applies to the issue. There is one benchmark for Israel, which allows it to maintain its arsenal of nuclear weapons, thereby threatening neighboring countries in the region and beyond, and another benchmark for other states in the Middle East, which are required to dismantle whatever arsenals they possess and desist from developing nuclear programs, even for non military use.
One important question remains to be asked: Will these new conditions in the Middle East affect Egypt? The immediate answer is yes. The ongoing transformations have already had an impact on the situation in Europe and across the globe, and they have brought about a shift in the balance of power in the region. The most significant ramifications have been economic, and this will affect Egypt, too. Another ramification is President George W Bush's desire to force the region to accept the US formula for change through political, economic, cultural and military means. The question is whether the region - including Egypt - will comply with US designs, or whether it will be coerced into temporary, but volatile acceptance. While it is still too early to tell what the future may hold, the US seems determined to follow its endeavor.
The New World Order, as implemented by Bush, may not yet be stable, but markers are already plain. The situation in the Middle East is crystallizing, and the changes being affected are profound. States of the region will have to work hard to understand these new regional changes if they are to act effectively upon them. States of the region must also react to the ongoing international and regional changes, and must take advantage of the present state of political and strategic flux to play a positive role in international relations. The US itself, though dominant, will continue to adapt to the consequences of its war on Iraq and will further develop its political and economic strategies, if not for the sake of the region, then for its own interests.