by Claude Salhani It is that time of year when political analysts project what may occur over the next 12 months. This is not a science. Predicting the political future is an educated guess backed with knowledge of the issues and common sense. Some say they can tell the future by using a crystal ball. Others profess they can see what is coming by reading tea leaves. Some will turn to mega computers for answers. However, a computer, no matter how powerful, can only produce information based on what was fed into it. Although some computers can spew out dozens of pages of information in mere seconds, it can only go so far. “Humint” — human intelligence — is only one of several intelligence gathering disciplines but is doesn’t matter if it’s geoint, masint, sigint, techint, cybint, dnint, et cetera, humans are still needed to interpret the data. So, relying on humint, what can be predicted for the Middle East in the next 12 months? It is sad to say that making predictions in the Middle East is facilitated by recent history, a history that repeats itself all too often. One of violence that breeds more violence. Indeed, it does not necessitate the intelligence of a brain surgeon to predict that over the next 12 months violence in Syria will continue as forces loyal to President Bashar Assad clash with a wide-ranging coalition that is pushing for a change at the top. With military support from Russia and Iran, as well as with the participation of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militia, one can safely predict that the turmoil in Syria is far from over. As Iraq tries to dig itself out of a chaotic situation, a safe prediction is that it will fumble towards its goal line of democratic rule while forces opposed to seeing a peaceful and non-sectarian Iraq continue their nefarious deeds. Iran comes to mind as one of the spoilers, as of course such murderous groups as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Yemen remains a hot spot to watch over the next year with the Saudi-Iranian debate carried out by proxy militias taking its toll. The threat of famine in Yemen is all too real and the world may witness one of modern history’s worst cases of mass starvation. As it fuels regional conflicts, including the one in Yemen, Iran will feel the crunch of US- and UN-imposed economic sanctions, further crippling an already tired economy. Will 2019 be the year in which the Iranian people liberate themselves from the yoke of the mullahs’ oppressive regime? Qatar’s squabble with fellow Gulf countries will continue into 2019 while both sides hold their positions and as Doha follows its brinksmanship approach to regional politics by edging closer to Iran and Turkey. In the Levant, Lebanon will see little change to its Hezbollah-dominated chaotic political system with fighting corruption and inertia high on all ministerial agendas. More than two decades after the end of the civil war, the country is still plagued with electrical shortages, something unseen in any other part of the world. Lebanon remains on the edge of being a failed state. Turkey, much to the disappointment of those who hoped to see the country shift towards Europe, in conformity with the secularist legacy of modern Turkey founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, will shift to the type of Islamism promoted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and to the type of neo-Ottoman dreams that are likely to implicate it further in the Levant’s endless wars. As for the longest lasting conflict in the region and beyond, the perennial Israeli-Palestinian battle will continue at least till 2020, when the Americans could maybe elect a new president with a better understanding of the Palestinians’ yearning for a just and lasting peace. In the two years Donald Trump has been in the White House, he has set Palestinian-Israeli relations, gnawed down to the bare bone, back about 100 years. Other than that, we wish you a better tomorrow and a peaceful 2019.