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Dunsmore: Middle East Udpate

Most of the Arab world welcomed Jordan’s swift decision to execute two convicted terrorists in response to the apparent burning alive of one of its pilots by the self-proclaimed Islamic State. And it immediately raised speculation that this time the Muslim extremists may have gone too far in their savagery. Former CIA counter- terrorist specialist Bruce Riedel was quoted on NPR as saying this incident could be a “tipping point.”

It was after three hotel bombings in Amman in 2005 in which 37 members of a Jordanian wedding party were killed, that Sunni Arabs decided to fight the bloodthirsty al-Qaeda in Iraq, which was the precursor of the Islamic State. That decision changed the course of the Iraq War.

And it’s also notable that one of the two terrorists executed by the Jordanians yesterday was the woman who was captured shortly after those 2005 bombings, wearing a suicide bomber’s vest that apparently failed to detonate.

However, long time Middle East diplomat Aaron David Miller now with the Woodrow Wilson Center, isn’t expecting a major shift in Islamic State’s fortunes. In his words, “ The main takeaway from this latest atrocity is that the fight against ISIS will be a long war, measured not in terms of “defeat” so much as trying to contain its expansion in the region.”

Actually the current effort to contain the Islamic State through the American led bombing campaign has had some success in slowing it down. Yet any thought that this problem of Islamic extremism is going to be substantially contained any time soon – much less defeated – is to ignore the broader facts on the ground.

- Syria is imploding after years of civil war, and President Bashar Assad's opponents may soon have to make a choice between allowing the dictator to remain in power - or seeing Syria largely taken over by Islamic fanatics, whose ranks continue to grow with European Muslim volunteers.

- Iraq is struggling to fight off ISIS with only very modest success because of its internal sectarian struggle between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

- The new King of Saudi Arabia is said to suffering from dementia. And it is not clear what direction the Saudis will ultimately choose between fighting Iran over regional influence - or Islamic terrorism.

- Turkey is no longer a secular state and is being pulled between European and Islamic influences.

- Jordan and Lebanon are under enormous political and financial stress by the fall-out of the Syrian war.

- And Egypt, after the hope of the Arab Spring, has become a ruthless military dictatorship suppressing all political dissent.

In my view, the Middle East is more unpredictable today that at any time in my fifty years of reporting on that region.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.
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